fbpx

This Week's Film Reviews (Jun 1, 2012)

01 Jun 2012

Openings this week include the anticipated SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, this year’s Cannes opening film, Wes Andersons’s MOONRISE KINGDOM and France’s box-office champion of all time THE INTOUCHABLES.

A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO ENDINGS (Canada 2011) **
Directed by Jonathan Sobel

Successful dark comedies are hard to come by.  Writer/director Jonathan Sobel’s debut feature A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO ENDINGS is proof of that.  But unfortunately, not in a good way!

A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO ENDINGS is a largely unfunny comedy about death.  In fact, four deaths to be exact!  Father Duke (Harvey Keitel) commits suicide and in his will, informs his sons that they are going to die owing to medical research pills he had been feeding them.  The three (of 5 sons) embark on a quest to better themselves or live life fullest before they leave the earth.

Eldest son, Nuts (Jason Jones spouting an awful moustache) sacrifices himself into the boxing ring after committing his younger brother Juicebox (Jared Keeso) to a losing match.  Cal (Scott Caan) decides to marry black widow ex-girlfriend, Miranda (Tricia Hilfer) while Jacob (Paulo Costasnzo) completes a list of to-do things that includes going across Niagara Falls in a barrel.

If all these antics appear funny on paper, they are not in execution.  The reason one son I called Juicebox because he can never open one successfully is not remotely funny.  Nor is going down the Falls in a barrel.

The countless coincidences and ridiculous situations that occur result in a totally unbelievable film.  The brothers fighting among themselves are just as annoying as watching a family of spoilt kids having dinner at a restaurant.  When they embark on the task to better themselves, no one really cares.

The Niagara Falls area, where the director Sobel grew up is well used, the cheesy and gambling establishments reflecting what has affected the White family.

Of all the actors J.K. Simmons (who is always good) is perfect as the tolerant Uncle Pal.  Harvey Keitel seems to have just walked through his performance in an hour or two and the actors playing the bothers were likely cast because of their looks.

A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO ENDINGS is a film about connection that fails to connect.  It is also a dark and sad rather than dark and funny comedy.

CROOKED ARROWS (USA 2012) ***
Directed by Steve Rash


The native Lacrosse sport gets the full movie treatment in CROOKED ARROWS.  One need not need to play or know the sport to enjoy this entertaining formulaic little movie.

The film begins rather seriously though with a flashback to the game played by the American native ancestors.  The film returns to the present where the native game is normally won by the non natives.  In prep school Lacrosse tournaments, the natives take it upon themselves to take back the glory of their native game.

The lead character in the story is native Joe Logan (Brandon Routh from SUPERMAN) who has lost hi sense of tribal loyalty and now working for the white man in operating a casino on native land. The owner wishes the natives to free more land and the only way Joe can convince his people is indirectly to win the native Lacrosse game team to victory as their coach.

The story is standard typical with a little love interest thrown in.  But CROOKED ARROWS still works its charm as director Rash has the audience rooting for the natives ever so often.

As a sports movie, the film works too. The climatic game is exciting enough.  The usual inter-cuting is there – inter-cuts among the actual game, reaction of the spectators, reaction of the players and in addition for this film, flashback of the ancestors playing the game in the wild.

This underdog winning big team film with a native slant turns out to be a nice little time waster with the additional bonus of a feeling good fuzziness. 

HABEMUS PAPAM (WE HAVE A POPE) (Italy/France 2011) ***

Directed by Nanni Moretti

As the film title implies, the world needs a new pope, the previous one having passed on.  Veteran director Nanni Moretti undertakes the detailed process of the installation of a new pope as performed by the Vatican.

This is a painful process.  As the nominations are made, Moretti’s camera pauses on the thoughts and faces of several possible candidates.  All of them pray that they will not be the one selected, each aware of the great responsibility the role of the pope has.  At the same time, Moretti offers his view of what the world thinks as he also shoots the reactions of the media.

Moretti treats the subject matter of Roman Catholicism and the Papacy with great respect touching on the humorous points while not being insulting or judgmental.

Moretti’s film contains details of the decision making process.  The authorities granted him access to the Vatican and his film is so realistic, it occasionally feels like a documentary.  But the star of the film is the ageing veteran French actor Michel Piccoli (LA BELLE NOISEUSE) who plays Cardinal Melville, the man unexpectedly elected the new pope.

The humble churchman, petrified by the responsibility, turns away from addressing the faithful in St. Peter''s Square, effectively rejecting the papacy.  Facing a major public relations crisis, the Vatican calls in a psychiatrist (played by Moretti himself) to help the new pope get over his stage fright.   Eventually Melville makes an escape to a hotel and the Vatican loses knowledge of his whereabouts.  The Vatican fools the public including the psychiatrist to think that the new pope is better and just resting, waiting to make his speech.

This is the story of what happens when the position of God is placed on the shoulders of a human being.  In contrast, the position of the psychiatrist is a complete reversal.  He is an extremely proud man, believing for one, that his wife had left him because, she, a psychiatrist like him, cannot work with someone better than her.  He also thinks that he knows all, holding a ‘God’ like position, even forcing the other Cardinals to play a ridiculous volleyball tournament while awaiting news of the health of Cardinal Melville.

Besides Melville making his decision at the end of the film via his speech to the people, the film fails to say anything new that has not already been said during the rest of the film.  Still, WE NEED A POPE, is a quietly humorous yet insightful examination of the frailty of the human body and ultimately of the human being.

IN THE FAMILY (USA 2011) **

Directed by Patrick Wang


IN THE FAMILY is a film on a well meaning little film that touches on the topic of gay child custody.

Chip Hines, a precocious 6-year old boy, after his mother passes on, has two dads.  His biological father, Cody (Trevor St. John) is living with his Asian male lover, Joey (Patrick Wang, also the film’s director).  All three live a good, comfortable life.  But just as things are looking the best, Cody dies from a car accident.  As he has not made a will since he had met Joey, the child custody and house to his sister.  The sister immediately steals Chip from Joey.  The law is not on Joey’s side.  With the support of his friends, Joey finally comes to deal with the situation.

A film with a story that touches controversial material like gay couples in Tennessee, child custody and legal injustice, one would expect more expertise from the filmmakers.  Wang decided to direct his story on his own to prevent interference on what he wishes on film.  Unfortunately, his good intentions do not pay off on screen.

For one, the film is far too long running at 2 hours and 40 minutes.  It could be easily cut down to a 90 minute short and sharp film with the message delivered just as clearly.  There is no need to watch Chip spend 5 or so minutes on screen time serving beer to Joey or a friend listening for 5 minutes over a dragon tale Joey has told Chip.

Worst still, the film has an amateurish look as director Wang hardly uses any shot tacking.  His filming consists of his camera in a fixed position with his characters walking in and out of the frame.  Most of the time, a character;’ head or limbs would be cut off.  Even for the most uninitiated in filmmaking, this poor framing feels extremely awkward.  Camera placement is also awful.  In one scene in which the camera should have been placed facing the blackboard (in one of Cody’s class lessons), the camera is placed so that the board is seen sideways.  The audience has to strain their eyes to see not only what is written on the board but also the characters that are seen sideways.

During the confrontational courtroom conference scene, Joey just rambles on and on.  It is thus unconvincing to see Cody’s sister undergo a change of heart.

For a film about people resolving major conflicts, IN THE FAMILY could have been much better done in professional hands.  What we have here is a glorified over lengthy home styled movie.

THE INTOUCABLES (France 2011) ****

Directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano

THE INTOUCHABLES (my most anticipated French film of the year) is the most successful French film at the box-office so far and one that has won the Cesar for Best Film.

The story is simple enough.  Philippe (Francois Cluzet) is a very wealthy aristocrat but a quadriplegic after a paragliding accident.  He hires a young man, Driss (Omar Sy), a young man from the projects to look after him.  It is not difficult to see why Philippe hires a risky, over-spirited black.  Philippe loves extreme sports, fast cars and therefore sees in this new help what he cannot do.  This true story shows how the relationship between the two men teaches invaluable life lessons.  An ordinary man becomes extraordinary and an extraordinary man learns to be ordinary.  And the audience is rewarded with a good entertaining comedy drama while the producers reap the big bucks at the box-office.

The film satisfies both the cultural (the recent SERAPHINE also won the Cesar), sexual and racier (the box-office hit BIENVENUE CHEZ LES CH’TIS) aspects of the French audience.   The culture part is observed by the classical music and paintings that Philippe enjoys.  But Driss’ point of view is not overlooked.  Driss loves Earth, Wind and Fire and J.J. Kool and the Gang.  His dance routine to Earth, Wind and Fire is plain exhilarating.  The sex is offered a differing look as Philippe who is paralyzed neck to toe gets his fix from his sensitive ears.  The running joke of Driss hitting on Magalie (Audrey Fleurot) is still as fresh each time it appears.  Philippe pines a girl who he writes poems to, from the north, so there is some fun poking at the people from the north (Dunkirk, in this case) of France.

Cluzet and newcomer Sy deliver winning performances.  The supporting cast especially Anne Le Ny as Yvonne, the other caregiver is excellent.

Like the slogan on display at an office near the end of the film that reads “En temps et en heures”, the box-office success of this film lies in the film’s timeliness of its subject matter.  This is French cinema at its best and most entertaining!  It would be interesting to see how successful this film will be in North America.

LOVELY MOLLY (USA 2012) **

Directed by Eduardo Sanchez


Co-director of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, Eduardo Sanchez’s latest horror cheapie uses once again the ‘found footage’ technique so popular now in horror flicks giving his film once again the familiar jittery and simulated authentic feel.

Though there is no reason for LOVELY MOLLY to be shot this way, audiences are so used to this by now, that many will not question the reason for its use nor its effectiveness.  LOVELY MOLLY should be re-titled NOT-SO-LOVEY MOLLY as this Molly is no nice creature.  She even bites off half the mouth of her lover in a grotesque love-making scene.

The film starts with Molly (Gretchen Lodge) holding a knife to her throat while videotaping herself.  “Crying that she is not in control anymore, the camera lingers on this particular scene too long a time as if to make 100% sure every single one of the audience feels uneasy, even though everyone can see how blunt the blade is.  And so too is the love-making bite off mouth segment that last overlong.  It is clear that Sanchez wants his audience to really feel the horror.  But by over-lingering on a particular scene is like cheating in a test.

The film flashbacks to Molly and Tim (Johnny Lewis) getting married.  They move into Molly’s parent’s old house that has a history of its own.  Tim is away a lot being a truck driver while Molly slowly descends into madness.  Or is it demons that possess her?  Or is it the drug taking that is screwing her up?

The spookiest and scariest scene occurs at the film’s start when the couple hears the alarm go off and hear footsteps while they are in the upstairs bedroom.  Should stay put in the room or should Tim go down to investigate with his shotgun?  One cop arrives and he heads down to the basement alone.  Nothing else matches this segment that is genuinely scary despite its simplicity.  The score by a group called TORTOISE adds to the chills.

The plot and story of LOVELY MOLLY is nothing out of the ordinary.  Nor are there any wicked twists in the story.  Audience get what is expected a standard horror story, in this case a sort of mixed haunted house/possession type spooks, sparked up with SAW type grossness.  All this have been seen before and much too often!

MOONRISE KINGDOM (USA 2012) ****

Directed by Wes Anderson


Midway during MOONRISE KINGDOM, Wes Anderson’s new gentle comedy co-written by himself and Roman Coppola, one of the young lovers informs the other: “A poem need not have to rhyme, so long as one is creative.”

This seems as if director Anderson is giving himself artistic licence to put anything down on film as long as he is creative in doing so.  MOONRISE KINGDOM turns out to be very much like a very creative and ingenius film in terms of storytelling, camera shots, acting as well as choice of music.  What it lacks though is a strong message though it could be argued that the audience need only have to work a little to realise what that message is.  This film is apparently about misunderstandings - the adults misunderstand each other and their children as well as their positioned roles in society.

The film begins with Anderson’s signature camera panning, but this time not only sideways as in the home of the Bishops (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) but also upwards and downwards revealing the occupants in the multi-storied house.  The unhappy daughter, Suzy (Kara Hayward) is wooed by a boy scout, Sam (Jared Gilman) who has been described as mentally disturbed as a result from the death of his parents.  They run away, with the result of the whole town running in search for them, led by Sheriff Sharp (Bruce Willis).  Extremely proud Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) but in reality a nerdy math teacher leads own scout search party that results in one of his boys being stabbed by Suzy and social services (Tilda Swinton) called.  That is pretty much the premise of MOONRISE KINGDOM which is made more watchable by Wenderson’s creative juices.  The colourful surroundings – every house looks like a dollhouse, the scenery, the narrator that appears in the flesh, the dialogue, offbeat casting and the weird choice of music as well as the attractiveness and quaintness of the New England town of new Penzance add to the film’s entertainment.  Tilda Swinton turns up in a bright blue dress like a wicked witch ready to pluck Sam out from one displacement and put him into the other.  In reality all the characters are just as oddly out of place in their vocations – Social Services in her job; the sheriff in his and the scoutmaster as well.

When it seems the film is leading towards a predictable path, Anderson pulls the carpet from the audience’s feet with a plot twist.  The scouts who were at loggerheads with Sam suddenly decide that they should not be meanies but help their own.  They aid the pair of young lovers escape and do the marriage ceremonies as well, conducted by Cousin Ben (Jason Schwartzman).

MOONRISE KINGDOM is not really a film about young love but a film of escape to a new world of hope.  It is as if the big storm that appears in the middle of the film (a metaphor like the flood that destroyed the world in the Noah’s Ark story and made into a church play in the film) has the sole purpose of cleaning up the sins of the film’s characters.  At one point in the film, Sam tells Suzy: “I don’t know what you are saying, but I love you!”  The two also meet by chance when Sam escapes from the audience to the stage changing room to view Suzy dressed as a raven.  Love is not the key issue.  Suzy’s parents also have martial issues and Sheriff Sharp is unable to bring his feeling to fruition.

MOONRISE KINGDOM is the official opening film at Cannes this year and makes its opening in France right away, a week before making its debut in North America.  This is the type of film Cannes usually adores, quirky artsy and with a well tucked message.  But often, studios do not know what to do with quaint films like these – the film as out of place as the characters in it.

PIRANHA 3DD  (USA 2012) *

Directed by John Gulager

In one scene of the film, one character says to another: “I love water!”  So be wet, comes the reply.  This type of lacklustre senseless dialogue sets the stage for what the audience is to expect of PIRANHA 3DD, whatever the 3DD means.

A water theme park infected by monster piranha fish.  Screaming teens, especially scantily clad girls with big breasts seem to be the scene the filmmakers is seeking for, despite any plot or reasoning.

So how do the mutant fish come into the water park?  Apparently they can make their way upstream and even through metal pipes and sewerage systems.

So, teen Maddy (Danielle Panabaker) and her friends have more than they bargained for.  Maddy a marine biological student returns home to the water park she co-owns.  But her stepfather Chet (David Koechner) has turned it into an adult water theme park with ‘water-certified’ strippers.  The new Big Wet is about to open just as the piranhas are about to strike.

But all this is a rather well worn premise and makes quite a boring film.  Even the fish chomping off the penis of a teen Josh (Jean-Luc Bilodeau) during a love making session fails to excite.

Christopher Lloyd has a neat cameo as the eccentric Mr. Goodman, who has the answers to all the questions on the piranha mutants.  Despite other appearances from David Hasselhoff and Gary Busey, few sparks fly.

The 3DD in the film’s title refer to the ‘extreme’ use of the 3D effects in the movie.  But it would more appropriately stand for the double D performance grading of this terrible attempt at a horror flick.

The film ends with a piranha evolving to a creature that is now able to walk on land.  It is also the time these filmmakers decide when enough is enough!

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNSTMAN   (USA 2012) ***1/2

Directed by Rupert Sanders

The new fairy tale adaptation of SNOW WHITE takes quite a few liberties with the classic story.  From the beginning, the audience sees the evil queen (Charlize Theron) married to Snow White’s father, the King.  She murders him while love making.

Unlike MIRROR MIRROR the Julia Roberts less successful SNOW WHITE which is more or less a more comically camp take, this version is an adult version of the children’s fairy tale.  The film turns up as an action blockbuster with scary horror overtones.  The dark forest with its brackish waters, crawly creepies and snakes is particularly menacing and not the sight for children.  It is clear from the film’s start to end that the filmmakers and crew take this project very seriously – in fact too seriously at times.  But fortunately, this version works much better than the first which turned out to be frothy nonsense.  At least SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNSTMAN is exciting action packed nonsense.

After Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is abandoned but alive in the dark forest, the Queen hires the huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to seek and kill her.  But when, he finds her, he ends up becoming her protector and mentor and together they fight the evil queen and restore the Kingdom to the rightful heir.  There is nothing spectacular in this story.  In fact, the plot is quite a bore, but the script introduces the 7 dwarfs as gold miners and the Sleeping Beauty apple story quite cleverly.  The dwarfs turn up as midgets that are played by well known mostly British actors like Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone and Eddie Marson.  Those familiar with British films will be more than pleased.

Theron overacts as the Queen, screaming and shouting a bit too much for my liking.  But she is good and the make-up effects as she converts from beauty to ugliness are convincing and scary.  Stewart does not fare as well sounding a bit ridiculous when she rounds up her people to fight for the Kingdom.  The music is raised a notch or two in volume to aid her character’s credibilty.

The action fight scenes are comparable to those found in other blockbusters like MARVEL’S AVENGERS or other superhero films.  The special effects such as the Queen turning into hundreds of black crows are stunning to see on the screen though this idea has been used before in the famed Japanese Hayao Miyazaki’s animated features.  In his HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE , the prince is turned into thousands of white doves.                  SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN proves that there still exists the child in every adult that loves a true fairy tale fantasy. Who would not like to live happily ever after?

 

 

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening: Moonrise Kingdom

Best Film Playing: Moonrise Kingdom

 

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

Comments powered by CComment

Get our latest stories in your inbox!

Search Site

Latest Articles

Latest on Instagram

Featured Events

25 Nov 2021 09:00 – 02 Dec 2021 23:30
This event is online
Festival

Join Our Mailing List

Advertise with us

Subscribe to podcast (English)

Find a Job

AfroToronto.com participates in affiliate marketing programs, which means we may earn a commission if you purchase an item featured on our site. These affiliate links, along with advertisements, support us and they come to no expense for you.

Media Kit | Member Access

Privacy Policy | Cookie Policy | Terms and Conditions

Copyright © 2005-2021 Culture Shox Media. All rights reserved unless otherwise stated.