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This Week's Film Reviews (May 25, 2012)

25 May 2012

Openings this week include the anticipated sequel MEN IN BLACK III and the horror flick CHERNOBLYL DIARIES.

 

CHERNOBYL DIARIES (USA 2012) ***

Directed by Bradley Parker

CHERNOBYL DIARIES plays like the horror classic THE HILLS HAVE EYES but set in the Ukrainian city of Pripyat, the former city which housed the workers of Chernobyl before the nuclear disaster.

It is a wonder why other filmmakers have not tapped the potential of a horror story here.  The premise and title of the film itself should draw horror fans to the theatres in droves.  With nuclear fallout, there is the potential for monsters, grotesque animals and even zombies to appear.  Director Bradley Parker here working with a script by Oren Peli (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY) has a group of teens visit Pripyat and then have them done away one after the other in true horror fashion.

No doubt all this nonsense has been seen before in countless horror flicks.  And it is also a well worn horror genre. But CHERNOBYL DIARIES is still not only loads of fun but intensely scary as well.  The camera tracks the teens as they make their way through countless corridors and the camera tracks behind and following them too. Parker plays with light pretty well especially in the night scenes in which the surviving members of the group move about with only one flashlight.

It all starts when 6 teenagers decide to go off the beated part and engage in what they term extreme tourism.  Their extreme tourist is a local Uri (Dimitri Diachenko) who works alone.  So, when his truck breaks down in the dead of night amidst hungry wolves and attacking zombies, they can get no help.  So, they have to run in the open to leave the nuclear area.  If they travel the wrong direction, their Geiger counter will go of indicating radioactivity.

Hitchcockian moments abound.  The best has characters Uri and Chris leave the others in the van to investigate the strange happenings.  Then the gun goes off a few times.  Nothing is seen on screen much Parker has created quite the anticipation in his audience.  The out of the blue bear scare in one segment is both scary and hilarious. The mutant fish segment also mutates from hilarious to pure horror.

Parker develops his characters more than ex pecked in a horror movie.  Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) learns that he ha to finally take responsibility and look after his younger brother, Chris (Jesse McCartney).  Uri surprisingly, turns out to be the most interesting character of the cast and it is a pity the script has him done away so early.  A mix of confident entrepreneur, a**hole, trickster and hunk, Uri is the best thing in the film.

Chernobyl Diaries though based on an original story from Oren Peli still manages to terrify as his groundbreaking thriller.  The film proves that old tested techniques will still work in novel situations.

HYSTERIA (UK/Fr/Germ/Lux 2011) ***
Directed by Tanya Wexler

HYSTERIA is in 1880 London a very serious female ailment.  Two physicians investigate, solving the sickness using pelvic massages.  In short, the film is about the invention of a vibrator.

Not as crass or dirty as the title seems, HYSTERIA is in reality a very harmless period romantic comedy in which the laughter is all taken with a stiff upper lip.

The central character is Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), a really good and diligent doctor whose good morals get him in trouble with all the hospitals where he was previously employed.  His demise brings him to the service of Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) and together they invent the dildo and get wealthy in the process.  Dr. Darrymple has two daughters Emily (Felicity Jones) and Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal).  It is Emily Mortimer is initially interested with but Charlotte is the one he finally falls for.  Why?  Both share the genuine interest of helping mankind.

So it is good intentions that drive the plot of the film along.  The dirtiness suggested in the theme is merely a tease so that those who see this film for that sole purpose.  They will be surely disappointed.

Dancy is all right as the fumbling doctor and Gyllenhaal is actually excellent as the British do-gooder blending in humour and drama all at the same time.   Rupert Everett is largely wasted as Mortimer’s rich benefactor who has nothing much to say and do.

HYSTERIA is an entertaining enough period romantic comedy which caters to both sexes and should be a good date film unlike most others these days which are chick flicks.

JESUS HENRY CHRIST (USA 2011) **

Directed by Dennis Lee


There is only one word that will come to everyone’s mind after viewing Dennis Lee’s JESUS HENRY CHRIST.”  Quirkiness!  The film is full of it.

Whether this is a good thing or not depends on a lot of factors.  Unfortunately, Lee’s film turns out too quirky for it own good.  Despite the advantage that his film is easy to watch and the time flies merrily along, whatever seriousness is in the movie and the narrative are both deeply compromised.  Lee’s film seems as if that everything in it is a joke, even the death scenes. The film is at times all over the place, right from the beginning when the focus shifts many times from Patricia (the mother) to the son then son to mother.

The dysfunctional modern family comedy revolves around 10-year-old boy genius Henry James Herman (Jason Spevack) named after his gay uncle Jimmy.  Henry claims that he is not a genius and that he just remembers everything single thing that he has seen, read or heard.  His fervently left-wing single mother Patricia (Toni Collette) works at the local university''s cafeteria.  A misfit from birth, Henry''s precocious, rabble-rousing ways catch up with him when he gets kicked out of school for writing "Manifestos on the Nature of Truth."   Meanwhile, 12-year-old Audrey (Samantha Weinstein) has her own problems because of her single father, university professor Dr. Slavkin O''Hara (Michael Sheen), who used her as the test subject for his best-selling book Born Gay or Made that Way?  Needless to say, she gets a not-so-nice nickname from her classmates. When Henry scores a scholarship to the university as a child prodigy, the two families cross paths and everything they knew about their lives is thrown to the wind.

The quirkiness starts at the introduction of Henry’s family through Patricia.  Her two brothers, mother other brother all die in weird accidents.  She is left to tend to her father, Stan (Frank Moore) and finally gives birth to Henry.  The camera shots are done in weird angles, vertical shots or what have you, so that the film has an overall different look.

Collette steals the show as the smothering mother who would do anything for her son Henry.  The film contains a story with a happy ending so all works well at the very end despite a few deaths that come along the way.  It is just too bad the quirkiness distracts too much rather than enhancing the film.

LAST CALL AT THE OASIS (USA 2011) ***

Directed by Jessica Yu

The documentary on water, or what I would re-title EVERYTHING YOU EVER NEED TO KNOW EVER ABOUT WATER, has so much information to disseminate that director Jessica Yu at one point in he film resorts to the split screen technique in which 4 separate wars on water are displayed on screen simultaneously.

Inspired by the book THE RIPPLE EFFCT, director Yu has obviously also seen many of the other films on water, as there are a few scenes in this film that have been seen in others – the bets known one being the housewife lighting up water flowing from her kitchen tap, which bursts into flames due to the ethanol.

The doc begins with slow motion movement of water, like droplets changing shape as they drop into the sea.  Very artistic and visual, it is surprising to se then that within the next 15 minutes, the film progresses at 10 times the speed with the business of water – such as the origin of water, the problems the world faces with water, the possible solutions and other associated problems.  It is plain and clear that director Yu means business.

One of the prime characters in this film is Erin Brockovich, the famous water environmentalist that sprouted the Julia Roberts film of the same name.  She states the most important statement in the film: “Water is more valuable than oil.”  The film is obviously geared towards the North American audience though the film is shot globally the world over with sights of India, Africa and even Singapore.

Animation is also included as well as an advertisement promoting the sale of re-cycled drinking sewerage water headed by Jack Black.  These two segments are both fun and informative to watch.

But Yu’s primary aim is the solution to the water shortage and pollution problem.  Her best segment and most effective is illustrating the solution in effect.  There is a segment set in the island city of Singapore (where I come from) in which 30% of the water drunk are recycled sewerage water.  Here, the people are re-educated on the safety of this new source of water which they term New Water.

One quip about the film is Yu’s non explanation of certain facts.  I light bulb consumes 14 gallons of water and likewise steaks consuming gallons.  How this comes to be is till a mystery to me at the end of the film.

The film ends in an up note that there is an earnest desire for human beings to solve a crisis like this water crisis, which involved cooperation.

As a documentary, Yu’s film is both educational informative and entertaining.  She weaves a good blend of entertainment into her mixture of knowledge.  Though one might argue that this might compromise the seriousness of the issue at hand (the shortage of water), one must admit that she has kept her audience’s attention from start to finish.

MEN IN BLACK III (USA 2012) ****

Directed by Barry Sonenfeld

 

Films on time travel have always fascinated audiences (especially me) as they often tamper with logic that could change the course of History.  What is then best not then to include this element in the sci-fi aliens action comedy franchise MEN IN BLACK.

The film begins with a comical yet exciting prison escape of Boris the Monster (New Zealander Jemaine Clement) from the moon.  He is thirsty for revenge.  He wants to kill Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) before the lost his arm and was imprisoned, and travels back in time to do so.  Agent J, K’s partner (Will Smith) must do likewise and travel back to 1969 to save him and ultimately earth itself.

The film sneaks in the period genre as well, with the costumes, sets and probes very appropriate for the late 60’s.  As expected a lot of 60’s parodying are included, the best being that Andy Warhol is himself a secret agent.

For a special effects 3D blockbuster MIB III is the best out on screen so far.  It has more than what a blockbuster should be – which is noise, special effects, more noise and more special effects.  Like MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS, the goal is to save the world.  But MIB III has a good unpredictable story and lots of emotions, a rarity in Hollywood films these days.  The futuristic gadgets include the really neat orbital motorbikes and the transporters.

The best action segments include the starting prison escape by Boris the Monster, the bike chase and the climatic race against time to put the arc on the rocket launched to the moon.

Besides Smith and Lee Jones delivering their best, Josh Brolin portraying the younger Agent K is also a hoot.  Brolin demonstrates how to act while impersonating someone else.  But the best acting comes from two relative unknowns, Jemaine Clements playing Boris and Michael Stuhlbarg who is unforgettable as Griffin.

The film ends with a neat plot twist that explains a lot of questions posed at the start of the film.  In MEN IN BLACK III, the characters develop through time to become what they are now are.  The comedy is excellent and the script more than occasionally brilliant.  This film makes the best of the summer movies so far.

WHERE DO WE GO NOW?  (Lebanon/Fr/Egypt/It 2011) **

Directed by Nadine Labaki

The film begins in a solemn atmosphere with women in black going to cemetery to pay respects to the dead males in their families be they husbands or sons.  They do an odd dance swaying their heads left, right, up and down as they make their way there.  Once there, they separate and lie or sit by the tombs.

The beginning scene pretty sums up the whole film.  Director Labaki’s (CARAMEL) ode to peace is an uneven piece that does not blend humour to sadness very well.  Quite often, the film is all over the place and the weak narrative does not help sustain interest either.

The premise of the film is the attempt by a group of Lebanese women to ease tensions between the two Christian and Muslim groups in the village.  But it is mostly shouting that these women do to get their point across.

It is annoying to see a film in which the females are always right and have the right things to say where the men are treated as hen-pecked husband or idiots.  Even the group of prostitutes are given more respect than the men.  The film often feels like a political chick flick.  Once Labaki gets her film in motion, it is not difficult to predict where her film is leading, and boredom starts right away.

The film would work better if one cares for the characters.  Though it is difficult to distinguish the characters or Christian from Muslim, making the effort would definitely enhance the film’s entertainment aspect.

WHERE DO WE GO NOW?  Was voted as the most popular film by audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival last year.  Most of the voters must have been women.

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening: Men In Black III

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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