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This Week's Film Reviews (May 18, 2012)

18 May 2012

Big film opening this week is BATTELSHIP competing with THE AVENGERS for the box-office top spot.

The Inside Out LGBT Film Festival begins its run in Toronto.

BATTLESHIP  (USA 2012) ***

Directed by Peter Berg

It is odd to find the blockbuster co-produced by Hasbro the creator of the game BATTLESHIP when the film’s plot has nothing to do with the game.

Inspired by Hasbro''s classic naval combat game, Battleship stars Taylor Kitsch as Lt. Alex Hopper, a Naval officer assigned to the USS John Paul Jones; Brooklyn Decker as Sam Shane, a physical therapist and Hopper''s fiancée; Alexander Skarsgård as Hopper''s older brother, Stone, Commanding Officer of the USS Sampson; Rihanna as Petty Officer Raikes, Hopper''s crewmate and a weapons specialist on the USS John Paul Jones; and international superstar Liam Neeson as Hopper and Stone''s superior (and Sam''s father), Admiral Shane.   The film’s plot has the navy surprised by an alien invasion intent to wipe human beings completely from the face of the earth.  There is no compromise or sympathy here.

BATTLESHIP takes half hour or so to get the action going.  Director Peter Berg and the script invests time and effort to create real characters like Alex Hopper and his fiancée Sam.  The romantic interest is in place before the fireworks start.

The studios are clever not to reveal the aliens in any of the film’s trailers.  The aliens are indeed a nasty bunch and they are much stronger than the humans.  But thanks to Hollywood style scripts, nothing is impossible and the aliens meet their match fighting the navy guys.

But what is clichéd and found before in other movies are also present – a hero in need to redeem himself; a disabled angry veteran proving his worth; a father over-protective of his daughter giving in; a nerdy coward transforming into a hero.  But Berg puts all these subplots together as if they were brand new.

Everything is predictable in this formulaic blockbuster.  But Berg knows what his audience wants and delivers.  The not too demanding audience will be rewarded with lots of explosions, action and TRANSFORMERS style special effects.

BERNIE (USA 2012) ***1/2

Direcetd by Richard Linklater

Jack Blake must be one of the most irritating actors alive.  One only has to see his films like TROPIC THUNDER and especially TENACIOUS D IN THE PICK OF DESTINY to see the reason why.  In BERNIE is cast as the title character who happens to be the most lovable man in the town of Carthage, Texas.

It must be inspirational counter-casting to have Black portray Bernie.  In a very restrained and understated performance, Black delivers and he actually makes the film work.

Bernie (Black) is the assistant funeral director in Carthage.  He gets along with all the town folk especially the ladies and elderly famously since he makes a special effort to know what their children or grandchildren are up to, their names and other details.  He also goes out of the way to comfort them during the funerals often bringing food and other comforting cheer.  So, when he meets and befriends Marjorie (Shirley MacLaine) a real sour but wealthy senior, she takes to him too much driving him up the wall.  Bernie finally kills her.

The black comedy is funny the way treacle and chocolate go together.  But the odd thing is that the audience will be both sympathetic to the Bernie character while also not condoning the crime Bernie committed.  The only character in the film who wants Bernie to pay for hi crime is Sheriff, Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey) and earnest but not too bright Carnage who can see the evil that Bernie has committed.  McConaughey delivers quite the spirited performance, especially in the court scene, quite opposite to his breakout lawyer role in A TIME TO KILL.

The atmosphere of the south where the folks are friendly and not-too-bright and where emotions and good deeds can overcome a multitude of sins is effectively captured.  Sets, props and locations are near perfect.

But the performances of Black and McConaughey are priceless.  Black does a winning musical number 76 Trombones while McConaughey acts as Bernie’s prosecutor in court.

I never could stand Jack Black or his films but this film is the exception.  BERNIE is the best Jack Black film to date and it does not need a Panda to cover up Black’s annoying behaviour.

THE DICTATOR (USA 2012) ****
Directed by Larry Charles


The story and plot HE DICTATOR is pure rubbish!  But as far as rubbish goes, this is the funniest rubbish to hit the screen this year.  Never mind the unfunny trailer.  But be forewarned!  Politically correct audiences should stay away.  But the film hits all groups from Jews (excusable because Cohen is one?), the Arabs, green environmentalists and especially women with smelly armpits.

TH DICTATOR is the heroic story of a dictator, Haffaz Alladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen) who risks his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.  While visiting the U.S. to address the U.N.’s concerns on the nation’s nuclear program, his official guide (John C. Reilly) and uncle (Ben Kingsley) have him kidnapped, beard shaved off and a double planted so that the independence treaty can be signed by the double in the U.N. to demolish the dictatorship of the oil rich north African nation of Waadeya.  As far as egotistical and ruthless as dictators come, Alladeen executes anyone who disagrees with him using his signature "head chop" (a hand waving dance move) signal. Alladeen is summoned by the UN to address their concerns about his nuclear program.  He is saved and falls in love with a protestor (Anna Faris).

As far as the Larry Charles/Cohen collaborations go, THE DICTATOR is the best of the three followed by BORAT and BRUNO.  The fake documentary/interview style of comedy is discarded and replaced by a pure fiction narrative.  This works well and THE DICTATOR comes along as less choppy, more together (despite a few unrelated comedic subplots) and feels a more satisfying whole.  But the crude, gross and offensive jokes are still present.

The format of THE DICTATOR follows most closely with Cohen’s first entry that was not released in North America, ALI G INDAHOUSE.  The lead character comes politically involved and ends up saving the world through his naivetivity.   In THE DICTATOR, General Alladeen delivers a surprising speech at the end mocking democracy (the American democracy in particular) in an unexpected twist.  As such this apparent ‘harmless’ film turns out to be a satire hitting the Americans more than the Arab Nations attacked by mostly silly disposable humour.  Example: General Alladeen informs what a real terrorist is as he has had Bin Laden, his friend stay at his house as a house guest.   “Just go to the toilet after he has been there, and you know what I mean.” The musical score incorporating quite an extensive Arab soundtrack is impressive.

As far as silliness goes, the film contains bouts of brilliant gross comedic set pieces.  The best of the lot involves a child delivery with the loving couple holding hands inside a woman’s vagina and a blow-job given to the general (or is it his double?) by a decapitated head.  But the running joke about female babies would certainly incur the wrath of the feminist groups or all women in particular.

I went to see THE DICTATOR not expecting much after watching its trailer and the awful BRUNO.  THE DICTATOR turns out to be the nastiest surprise this year!

MARLEY (USA/UK 2012) ****
Directed by Kevin MacDonald


The lengthy but comprehensive two and a half hour documentary of Bob Marley does the Reggae King justice.

Scots director Kevin MacDonald wowed critics with his first feature the documentary ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER.  He followed this success with two hits THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND and TOUCH THE VOID which could be considered re-enactments of true events.  McDonald returns to form after the disastrous last feature THE EAGLE.  Truly, his expertise lies in documenting and telling or re-telling true stories.

And Bob Marley has quite the story to be told.  Born in West Ghana, Africa raised in Jamaica, MacDonald tells of his rise to fame from deep poverty.  A character describes in the film how poor the children were and when asking for food when hungry were told to drink water before going to bed.  But as the narrator says, poverty will force a child to grow up great or bad.  Fortunately, Marley grew up to be the latter.

MacDonald intersperses interviews with Marley’s family like his mother, cousin, sister, wife, girlfriend and other acquaintances.  Jimmy Cliff has his say as well.  Marley also has a few words to say on screen himself.  MacDonald has gone to great lengths to obtain some of the old footage which includes a few great concert performances.  These performances featuring many of the King’s greatest songs like NO WOMAN NO CRY and JAMMIN’ are interspersed throughout the film.

Marley is portrayed not only as a musician but as a rebel and eventually a legend.  His life story unfolds chronologically with the film ending with Marley’s funeral. Marley died from cancer at the early age of 36.

MARLEY is informative, entertaining as well as occasionally inspirational.  Often, the lyrics of Marley’s songs speak for him.  MacDonald has crafted Marley’s well deserved tribute in his thorough documentary.

VIRGINIA (USA 2010) **
Directed by Dustin Lance Black


VIRGINA contains one very strong character named VIRGINIA.  Mentally a little unstable, she has to burden to take care of her son.  This complex character unfortunately has other problems on her hands like an affair with a sheriff who wants to run for governor.

It is easy to se what drew director Dustin Lance Black to then project.  Lance has worked before with mental suicide patients.  But Black is more known as the Oscar winning writer of MILK, the Sean Penn portrayal of Governor Harvey Milk as well as the writer for the less successful Clint Eastwood effort J. EDGAR.  Like J. EDGAR VIRGINIA is all over the place and the film lacks a satisfactory ending.

This is the story of Virginia (Jennifer Connelly) and her son, Emmett (Harrison Gilbertson).  Virginia has an affair with the local sheriff Tipton whose daughter (Emma Roberts) is seeing Emmett.  Yes - small town affairs min a small town.  The script by Black shows Tipton to be an over religious hypocrite, the type of characters audiences love to hate.  The character of Emmett is underwritten and the film sways unevenly between the characters of Emmett and Virginia.  The film is also all over the place unable to dwell with the issue at hand – being the sheriff’s electoral campaign, the infidelity or the two families under consideration.  But his film is too serious and curiously, might have done better as a really camp comedy directed by say, John Waters.

Ed Harris and Jennifer Connelly are both good as the excellent couple.  But the feeling is that the script is limited in what more depth they could provide in the characterizations.  Their characters appear cardboard, destined to the unfortunate fate their actions have brought them to.

VIRGINIA though not a very good film should be seen for writer Black’s directorial debut.  But the film seems to show that Black has taken too much on his plate with the result of a muddled though worthwhile attempt.

THE SAMARITAN  (USA 2012) ***

Directed by David Weaver

When a grifter lets his mark feels so comfortable that he thinks he is doing his con a favour, the grafter works like a Samaritan.  The title of this film is thus derived as ex-convict Foley (Samuel L. Jackson) is forced to do one last con.

Nothing new in this kind of plot in which a guy tries to convert to be good but is forced by his past acquaintances to do one last job be it to save family or make a large cash sum.  The statement: “Nothing changes unless you make it change” is quoted more than once by more than one character in the movie.  Saving the family, the daughter, Iris (Ruth Negga), in this case is the reason (and partly the money) for Foley to do one last act as a grafter.  The mark is a really nasty guy called Xavier (Tom Wilkinson) who takes as much pleasure from seeing a man die as killing him.

The script co-written by Weaver (CENTURY HOTEL) and Elan Mastai is a nicely thought of one with enough plot twists to satisfy any crime story fan.  Foley had been jailed as a result of being forced to kill his partner.  His partner’s son, Ethan (Luke Kirby) arrives and blackmails Foley to hit Xavier.

THE SAMARITAN contains a few nasty bits like chopping off fingers but otherwise, the blood flows as expected in violent crime thrillers in this genre.

Jackson is as usual very good in his role, but he is always better playing the tormentor as in INTOLERABLE than in the tormented as in this role.  Luke Kirby from Hamilton, Ontario holds his own well with Jackson while Wilkinson is his nastiest best.

Though set in the U.S. the film is Canadian with many scenes recognisable as Toronto.  THE SAMARITAN is not the best crime drama or mystery that has hit the screen, but it is a satisfying and entertaining time waster.

TURN ME ON, DAMMIT!  (USA 2012) ***

Directed by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen


TURN ME ON, DAMMIT is a teen sex comedy!  But before dismissing it as adolescent rubbish of the likes of AMERICAN PIE, PROJECT X et al., this film should be seen as it takes the well-worn genre on to a different level.

The story is told for one from a female point of view as the protagonist is a 15-year old Alma (Helene Bergsholm).  The setting is not only in the different country of Norway at that but a little remote town of Skoddeheimen.  There is no future for the girls except to fall in love and remain in the Godforsaken town as housewives.  Whenever Alma and her friends pass the town sign in their school bus, they give it the finger.  But this film has heart, is full of Norwegian style charm and ends up a winning and entertaining tale in which adults are portrayed as grown up idiots.  Alma’s mother (Henriette Steenstrup) tries hard, jogs to keep fit and make intelligent moves to win her daughter’s confidence

This is the story of hormone raging Alma.  If not connected to phone sex on the house landline (Why is the phone on the floor? Mother asks), she is fantasizing about having sex with everyone from classmate Artur (Matias Myren), whom she has the hots for or the store clerk where she is forced to work in order to pay the phone charges.

But the trouble starts at a party when Alma leaves the hall to have a beer outside.  Artur pulls out his dick and rubs it on Alma’s thigh.  When she tells her friends, Artur denies it and everyone disbelieves her, calling her dick-Alma.  Her entire social life ruined, she decides to run away to Oslo and never return to Skoddeheimen.

This is quite the plot but director Jacobsen keeps his film in check from being a meaningless teen comedy.  TURN ME ON, DAMMIT! turns out to be a worthwhile check for an entertaining night out with a few surprises that are as naughty as AMERICAN PIE’s pie f***ing.  As an additional bonus, the film contains great shots of the Norwegian scenery like the fiords and mountains.  Maybe living in Skoddeheimen is not so bad after all.

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING· (USA 2012) *

Directed by Kirk Jones

Brit Kirk Jones broke into fame with the Irish comedy WAKING NED.· His latest comedy WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING deals with 5 couples having babies, Hollywood style.· Expect something very much in the vein of HAPPY NEW YEAR and VALENTINE’S DAY.

If you detested HAPPY NEW YEAR and VALENTINE’S DAY, chances are that you will walk out on this one.· Pretty lame, predictable and basically a chick flick at heart with no redeeming qualities, it is surprising that the director, scriptwriters and producers are all men - probably men with only money making on their minds. The film revolves around 5 slightly related couples, which means 5 times the tedium.· Believe it or not, this film is ‘inspired’ by the New York Times bestseller of the same name.

This is a film of Hollywood couples.· Everyone is rich (poor means unable to buy a mansion) and beautiful, and since this is a chick flick, the men are drop dead gorgeous.· The problems about parenthood are nothing like what might happen in the third world.

Over the moon about starting a family, TV fitness guru Jules (Cameron Diaz) and dance show star Evan (Matthew Morrison) find that their high-octane celebrity lives do not stand a chance against the surprise demands of pregnancy.· Baby-crazy author and advocate Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) gets a taste of her own militant mommy advice when pregnancy hormones ravage her body; while Wendy''s husband, Gary (Ben Falcone), struggles not to be outdone by his competitive alpha-Dad (Dennis Quaid), who''s expecting twins with his much younger trophy wife, Skyler (Brooklyn Decker). Photographer Holly (Jennifer Lopez) is prepared to travel the globe to adopt a child, but her husband Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) isn''t so sure, and tries to quiet his panic by attending a "dudes" support group headed by Vic (Chris Rock).·· The last and most tiresome couple, Rose and Marco (Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford) have a baby after a one-night stand and then break up after a miscarriage and eventually come together.· The audience is really put through a lot especially having to watch the entire child bearing scenes in which actresses like Diaz and Banks have to show that they can act.· Thank God Lopez adopts one from Ethiopia.

The film falls into the same traps of similar chick flicks.· The female characters all have the right sayings, get their way and feel good.· The guys say the wrong things (example: Marco rushing marriage after discovery that Rosie is pregnant), get into trouble and have to apologise.· The news of miscarriage is taken out in a clichéd segment where Rosie and Marco are drenched in rain.

Into the 90 minute mark of the film, most of the audience will likely wish under their breath: “Give birth already!”· Yes, films on child bearing can be just as painful as the real thing!

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening: The Dictator

 

Best Film Playing: The Deep Blue Sea
Best Action: Marvel’s The Avengers
Best Drama: The Deep Blue Sea
Best Foreign: Headhunters (Norway)
Best Comedy: The Dictator
Best Family: The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Best Documentary: Marley

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