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This Week's Film Reviews (Jun 8, 2012)

09 Jun 2012

The much anticipated prequel to ALIEN, PROMETHEUS makes its debut this week.

Also opening is David Croneberg’s much talked about COSMOPOLIS that had its premiere at Cannes last month.

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (Canada 2011) *
Directed by Panos Cosmatos


Panos is the son of Greek director George Pan Cosmatos whose high octane action films like THE CASSANDRA CROSSING, LEVIATHAN and ESCAPE TO ATHENA gained him fame.  That is as far as the connection goes.

Panos Cosmatos’ BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW moves at a snail’s pace and slower.  It has maybe three or four characters at most and they speak in riddles and as if in a daze.  They move about if hardly ever and the camera hardy changes position.

The actors have bad haircuts or wear really plain clothing and walk about in sparsely decorated rooms.

All this might be expected if this was a futuristic movie.  Well, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is one though the future (relative, one might argue) is the year 1983.  The film is given the look of the 1960 futuristic flicks like MODESTY BLAISE or DANGER: DIABOLIC though the entertainment factor comes nowhere close.   The setting of this arguable experimental film is in an experimental clinic.  Don’t ask why but there is only one patient being treated.  And one who has supernatural powers, as seen mid-way in the film.  Elena (Eva Allan) is able to do away (David Cronenberg’s SCANNERS style) with the clinic worker (Rondel Reynoldson) who brings her bad food.

The story opens with a 1970s-type promo reel that features Dr. Arboria (Scott Hylands) touting the benefits of the clinic he’s founded.  He promotes it as a place that brings happiness through New-Age therapies.  Then the story cuts to the reality (and future?) of 1983.  With Dr. Arboria ailing, the facility is now run by a sinister man named Barry (Michael Rogers).  As Barry becomes unhinged, his actions become increasingly horrific, Elena tries to escape.   At this point, the film turns into a horror cat chase mouse movie.

Nothing is ever explained in the film.  Why is Elena there?  Why is Barry now running the clinic?  What is with him and his wife, who he kills midway through the film?   Barry is seen at one point taking some meds but why and why his transformation?  But most importantly, where is the rest of the world in the year 1983?

As if things could not worsen, Cosmatos intersperses his film with wired mechanical sounds and odd colours.  (The score was composed entirely on analog synthesizers by Jeremy Schmidt of Sinoia Caves and Black Mountain.)  Half the time, one cannot understand what the actors are saying and if one does, the conversations make little sense either.  All this is extremely frustrating in a frustrating film that goes nowhere and nowhere very slowly.

Sadly to say, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is a Canadian movie with cast and crew from Vancouver.  This is also sadly the most pretentious and worst film I have viewed this year.  It is as if someone not only forced his first attempt at movie making at you and forced you to pay for it.

COSMOPOLIS (Canada/France/It/Port 2012) ***1/2

Directed by David Cronenberg

COSMOPOLIS first screened at Cannes to mixed critical reviews is a difficult film to appreciate.  It falls in the category of Cronenberg’s less successful panned films CRASH and NAKED LUNCH.  Based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Don DeLillio, the film has extensive fluid dialogue often in riddles and about nothing.

COSMOPLOIS is supposedly set in NYC only because there is a reference to the Manhattan Bridge where the cabbies in the film apparently go to pee.  But it is odd that two prominent Toronto sites, the Canon Theatre and a Convenience store called Rock variety in Toronto’s main Yonge Street come in full view.

The film tracks an assets billionaire Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson from TWILIGHT) who tracks around Manhattan to get his haircut.  Why doesn’t he get one in his limo or in the office?  Because it is the hall of mirrors and chairs that make the haircut.  So, Eric says much to the consternation of his chief security (Kevin Durand from EDWIN BOYD).  Eric’s weird adventures take him through many encounters which allow him to profess his theory on things as well as allow Cronenberg to come up with weird flowery dialogue as well.  Too bad three grammatical errors stand out in the dialogue:  One has breakfast, not eats breakfast.  One makes one choice not two in choosing one of two hotel which are two options and one choice; and the plural of the word index is indices.

A horde of cameos from the likes of Jay Burachel, Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, a barely recognizable Mathieu Amalric and finally Paul Gimatti as a disgruntled assassin spices up the proceedings.

As an adaptation, Cronenberg takes certain liberties.  Whether they work or not depends on ones view.  The riots in the book are downplayed in the movie and are only view a sidelined as most often only viewed through the windows of Eric’s limo.  The prostrate examination segment is also Cronenberg’s idea and the ending (not revealed in this review) also comes a little changed.  Though the book was written in 2003 before the Toronto G20 summit riots and protests, Cronenberg infuses the same kind of chaos felt in Toronto in the movie.  Music is appropriate by the Canadian group Metric.

Patterson’s character is totally aloof compared to all his encounters that seem real.  This suits the role of the billionaire oblivious to the surroundings thinking himself a sort of untouchable God.  This is where Eric’s world comes tumbling down as he loses, what he describes as tonnes of money as he bets unsuccessfully against the yuan.

Cronenberg is totally in control of this movie.  But the movie can only improve so much a book which many will likely dislike.  This is a story in which anything can happen but nothing really does.  But the movie especially the dialogue is compelling from start to finish and his film also contains bouts of violence and surprises.  Hate it or love it COSMOPOLIS still demonstrates a Master in control of his medium.

HIGH SCHOOL (USA 2010) **

Directed by John Stahlberg

The word ‘high’ in the title HIGH SCHOOL takes a different meaning here since this film has a theme involving pot.

From the press notes, writer/director John Stahlberg got the inspiration for his directorial debut from two characters from his school days, one a skateboarder and the other a stoner/dealer.  The skateboarder character becomes a secondary character in his movie while the pothead metamorphorsizes into a major one, Psycho Ed played by Adrien Brody whose ‘stuff’ manages to get the entire school, both students and staff high.

One can imagine Stahlberg getting all excited writing his script with these two characters and penning down situations that could occur.  Giving him credit, his script, co-written by Ertic Linthorst and 3 others do contain a few ingenuous situations but these are mostly bizarre (like the spelling of a word similar to diarrhoea during a Spelling Bee; a teacher saying out her sexual thought out loud) but rarely that funny.  Stalhberg seems unable to come up with anything laugh out loud hilarious.  After all, he is supposed to be making a comedy.

For a drugs movie, one would expect the script to be more inventive or risk taking.  The villain, Dr. Leslie Gordon (John Chiklis) in the plot is the typical easy target, a nerdy school principal with no redeeming qualities.  From his looks (hair and clothes) and behaviour, this is one man everyone will take an instant dislike to.  His vice (Colin Hanks, Tom’s son) fares no better a grown up geek at heart.  The plot is entirely predictable from start to end.  One knows Dr. Gordon will get it where the heroes will emerge unscathed in character or any other form.

HIGH SCHOOL comes nowhere as funny as PINEAPPLE EXPRESS or the Greg Araki stoner film SMILEY FACE.  Even as weird films go, it is no match for FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS or even the cheapie flick SPUN.  HIGH SCHOOL turns out to be a predictable boring yarn about a topic that demands better treatment.

MADASGASCAR 3: EUROPES’S MOST WANTED (USA 2012) ****

Directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Conrad Verson


The third outing of the escaped Central Park zoo animals is given a distinct European feel.  The animals perform in a circus in Italy and Alex (Ben Stiller) is under hot pursuit by French Captain Chantel Dubois (the surprisingly good Frances McDormand spouting a French accent.)

It is expected that audiences are familiar with the first MADAGASCAR.  If not, it really does not matter or hurt the enjoyment nature of Number 3.   And whatever happened in the original is sneakily told to he audience as the film moves along.  Alex, Marty (Chris Rock) , Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman (David Schwimmer) – never mind what kind of animal they are - are still trying to get back to the Big Apple and their beloved Central Park zoo, but first they need to find the penguins. They travel to Monte Carlo where they attract the attention of Animal Control after gate crashing a party and are joined by the penguins, King Julian (Sasha Baron Cohen) and Co., the monkeys and a new arrival: a performing llama.  How do a lion, zebra, hippo, giraffe, four penguins, two monkeys, three lemurs and a llama travel through Europe without attracting attention?  There, they join a traveling circus.

Compared to say Disney’s BRAVE which will open in a few weeks, MADAGASCAR 3 by inevitable comparison contains a thin story line and a weak narrative.   The animals help save the circus and return to the zoo.  But what is lacking in that department is more than made up by sheer inspired zaniness.  The various animals have a helluva good time and this rubs off on the audience.

It takes the film a while (one third of it) to really get rolling.  But once it starts, there is no stopping.  What Alex the lion discovers missing in the circus and inspires them back into their performances is passion.  The filmmakers realize this too and no doubt after seeing MADAGASCAR 3, once cannot say the filmmakers lack this trait.  They go all out at making this film work.  And this is inspired inventive goofiness.  Take the trapeze scene performed by Alex or the duet dance on the tightrope segment.  The three on the trampoline is also a sight for sore eyes.  The villainous Dubois breaks out at one point, rendering the famous Charles Dumont song: “No, je ne regrette rien!” in full operatic voice as if performed by Edith Piaf herself.  A little romance (thankfully not too much) is also added via the song “Love comes as a Surprise”.  Though the film is based on animals, there is sufficient humour for the adults not to take off to the concession stands.

MADAGASCAR 3 takes the risk of having the animals return to their new friends at the circus and not to return to Central Park Zoo.  It is good to see the film’s heroes learning not taking the acceptable safe path for their future.  Though the script takes this risk, the other alternative of the animals re-join their circus friends is still predictable.

PROMETHEUS (USA 2012) ***

Directed by Ridley Scott


PROMETHEUS is reported to be the prequel to ALIEN.  (ALIENS, directed by James Cameron is the sequel to ALIEN.)  Both films are from director Ridley Scott.  But hardly anyone can argue as it is unlikely anyone can remember much of the 1979 original.

When ALIEN hit the screens in 1979, the Time Magazine critic called it a bastard movie.  ALIEN had arrived after the major hits STAR WARS and JAWS and ALIEN being a space horror movie was spawned from the two.  ALIEN was nothing much than a souped up horror film set in space without ghosts but still contained monsters.  As in that one, director Scott takes his audience on another wild ride of nonsense in PROMETHEUS.

The film begins with a team of explorers discovering a clue to the origins on mankind on earth.  They see human figures pointing to five objects in the sky.  This leads to a journey sponsored by a rich and very old businessman Peter Weyland (a hardly recognizable guy Pearce) to the darkest corner of the universe.  There they fight a terrifying battle to save the human race while at the same time trying to find out the why the beings created then wanting to destroy the human race.

No doubt PROMETHEUS is scary and director Scott knows how to build momentum to a climax.  He has created a few totally compelling gruesome segments, the most memorable being Elizabeth’s (Noomi Lapace) own abortion of an alien creature.

One must give credit to Scott for the scene when Weyland begs the creature for the truth on why they created humans i.e. the meaning of life by means of translation through the robot. David (Michael Fassbender).  The result?  As the audience strain their ears to hear the answer, the creature pounces and kills Weyland.  The puzzle of the meaning of life is never answered and I am sure the script by Jon and John Spaihts, Scott himself and Damon Lindelfon never intended to.  This is likely the filmmakers’ biggest joke.

Still for the wild ride into outer space to the space discovery station that is called PROMETHEUS, there are plenty of genuine scares.  Audiences would be satisfied with this compelling film though the film basically never answers any questions the script poses.  The film is also visually stunning making full use of the 3D effects (especially the holograms).  And Ridley Scott has again proven himself the Master of creating fear out of nothing!

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening: Cosmopolis

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: Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
Best Documentary: Marley

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