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This Week's Film Reviews (Jun 15, 2012)

14 Jun 2012

Openings this are Adam Sandler’s THAT’S MY BOY and ROCK OF AGES.  3 new docs also make their debut.

Toronto’s LUMINATO festival features THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI.  Two series The new Lebanese Cinema and BEEFCAKE also open at the TIFF Cinematheque this week.

388 ARLETTA AVENUE (Canada 2011) *

Directed by Randall Cole


Things go terribly wrong for couple James (Nick Stahl) and Amy (Mia Kirshner).  They live in a comfortable Toronto neighbourhood at the address of 388 ARLETTA AVENUE.

But the cat disappears and its head is found in the freezer.  Then Amy disappears after a domestic quarrel.  James is all nerves and suspects foul play.  He figures the house is under surveillance 24/7 by unknown person and calls the cops.  Of course, the cops and no one else like his best friend or sister-in-law (Krista Bridges) believe him.  Director Cole (REAL TIME) shoots his film entirely from the vantage point of surveillance and handheld cameras.  This means the audience knows that all this is actually happening – which is the case!  The trouble with this film is that all this has been done so much better in Michael Haneke’s not so recent CACHE (HIDDEN), so that Cole’s film looks like an idiot’s version.

Comparison is inevitable and the suspense is lacking, the plot sillier with a climax that is less satisfying.  So, one wonders why this film got made in the first place.  But at least this is not a remake of the famous French film.

Stahl’s performance is good – one would expect the lead actor to be at least of a certain standard in a film like this but the entire exercise is a complete waste of money, energy and mostly the audience’s time.  The least Cole could have done is plagiarize from Haneke’s film and a remake would have been better!

FOREVERLAND (Canada 2011) **

Directed by Maxwell McGuire


FOREVERLAND is a film about a man’s journey discovering himself while honouring his dead best friend’s last request.

This young man, William (Max Thieriot) happens to be diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.  In a video of his dead friend, Bobby (Thomas Dekker), Bobby asks William to honour his last wish by having his ashes scattered in a shrine in some forsaken city in Mexico.  As William can still live pretty well and is relatively healthy with his current medication (his fibrosis has not kicked in yet), he decides to make the trip.  Bobby’s ex-girlfriend, Fran (Sarah Wayne Callies) tags along.

This is a pretty boring journey and the two actors playing the leads are not particularly exciting either.  This is not helped that the characters are rather plain people.

Director McGuire attempts to juice up the proceedings a little for example, by having William try out different coffins much to the consternation of Mr. Steadman (Matt Frewer) the coffin salesman but it hardly helps.  The script offers weird bits of information such as: a coffin allows a person enough air to last 3 hours; or that a body has enough salt to fill 4 salt shakers.

The only time the film soars a little is in the segment when the couple visit William’s aunt disagreeable aunt, Vicky (Juliette Lewis).  Lewis spices up the entire film but unfortunately her character has less than 5 minutes screen time.

The script has too many convenient incidents.  When William needs a car for his trip, his parents give him one for his birthday.  When the car is stolen en route, they see the thief at the first gas station they enter.  They manage to hitch rides all the way down to Mexico.  When the car breaks down, they see a sign on the road for help.

A lot of incidents in the film make no sense at all.  At one point, Fran says that they hardly have enough money for coffee and the next scene has them drinking coffee or taking the bus to Mexico.  When William is taken to a local Mexican clinic, he is shown back in an American hospital in the next scene.  A lot of the dialogue is also senseless.  Example Fran says: “Cancer is the coca-cola of diseases.  Cancer even has his own sign.  (The disease and the horoscope are two totally different things but of the same name.)

It is hard to dislike a film that has death and redemption as its subject.  But FOREVER LAND is a film that is so careless that its subject is lost in its hold of the audience.

i am a good person/i am a bad person (Canada 2011) ***

Directed by Ingrid Veninger


Like her two other films ONLY and MODRA, Torontonian based Bratislava born filmmaker Ingrid Veninger makes small quirky personal films often starring her family members.  It is of no surprise that her film company is called Punk Films.  One wonders how much truth there is in her films.  Those will be good questions to ask during the Q &A sessions after her screenings.

While touring festivals for her last film MODRA, Veninger shoots herself and her daughter Hallie Swizter with a script of an identical story of a mother and daughter touring film festivals in Europe.  They part ways, and must confront life-changing choices alone, before returning home.  Daughter Sarah (Switzer) has a secret and so does mother.  For a film with the description above, do not expect a boring detached drama.  Veninger’s film, for one contains lots of frontal nudity, a segment involving a blow job and lots of surprises (or shocks) on the way.  The scenic atmosphere of Berlin and Paris also explains the reason these cities are loved.  Veninger also teases with the start of scenes with the audience trying to guess whether it is one in which the mother or the daughter is in.

i am a good person/i am a bad person is an entertaining little film from director Veninger who consistently continues to impress with her ingenuity and humanity.

THE ISLAND PRESIDENT (USA 2011) ***

Directed by Jon Shenk


THE ISLAND PRESIDENT arrives with high accolades of winning last year’s TIFF People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary Feature.  One thing for sure is that the film is definitely a crowd pleaser.

It is easy to see the reason.  The subject, the President of Maldives, a country of breathtakingly beautiful turquoise reefs, beaches, and palm trees is a charismatic leader, an excellent speaker and an effective manipulator of human leaders and colleagues. After leading a twenty-year pro-democracy movement against the brutal regime of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, surviving repeated imprisonments and torture, Nasheed became president at 41 in 2008, only to encounter a far more implacable adversary than a dictator – the ocean.  Considered the lowest lying country in the world, a rise of a mere three metres in sea level would inundate the Maldives, rendering the country practically unlivable.  Unless dramatic changes are made by the larger countries of the world, the Maldives, like a modern Atlantis, will disappear under the waves.                               Nasheed brought democracy to the Maldives in 2008 as head of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) which he co-founded in 2003 while in exile in Sri Lanka.  Nasheed, a popular and charismatic leader proved to be an unusually shrewd and sophisticated politician who grasped that the only way he could stand up to the catastrophic issues of climate change facing his country would be to take the Maldives’ cause to the world stage.

The world stage in this case is the 2009 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.  Director Shenk and his camera crew followed President Nasheed for years following and during this conference to shoot this film.  The result is a detailed doc on what it means to be dedicated and to fight for climatic change.

But what the film also reveals is the character of Nasheed, the man.  One can forgive him his one bad habit of lighting up.  It only shows him more human.  For someone imprisoned and tortured to bring democracy to his country, he is to be respected and admired.  But he does more.  His goal is to influence the world leaders, particularly the difficult politicians from China and India to agree to cut pollutants and carbon dioxide emissions.  Nasheed is shown in this film to be a great man – a tireless, sacrificing leader, ready to sacrifice his family and himself for what he believes is the right thing to do.

The climax of the film is the final decision reached by the world leaders on the topic of signing the agreement on climatic change.  But though the film ends on a high note, two statements on screen, one stating the emissions goal being unmet two years after and the other of Nasheed resigning as the President is particularly disheartening.

KIVALINA V. EXXON (USA/Canada 2011) **

Directed by Ben Addelman

 

Kivalina is a tiny village in Northwest Alaska of 400 people.  The film deals with several issues the main one being its struggle to survive and to save itself from the consequences of global warning, in an epic battle against the world''s biggest polluters - the oil and gas corporations among them Exxon.

The film begins with the narrator informing of ice chunks falling away thus destroying via corrosion of the coast and slowly the small village of Kivalina which the audience learns lies on the coast of an island.  The camera obviously shows actual ice chunks in the sea before moving into the main business.  Told mainly from the point of view of Colleen Swan, a native administrator, the audience learns all there is to know about the village’s problems.  Of course, this is mainly from her point of view, which could result in a little accuracy and bias.  Director Addelman also interviews others, but these include her various relatives like her aunt.  One wonders the reason Swan was chosen for the most part, though one might understand that she held quite an important position involving the village’s relocation – one of the solutions to the problem – but she did gets fired, as informed in the end credits for ‘disobedience’.

The film gives the feeling of not being that well researched and all over the place.  The film jumps over several issues, such as the relocation problem, the lawsuit of the village against the various oil companies and the problems discussed by the villagers.  Addelman does not settle on any and at one point even mentions, for no reason, Swan’s conversion to Christianity.

The film includes a few archive footages of the villagers hunting a whale.  Nothing is mentioned on how the villagers eat and survive after the film mentions that no whale has been caught since the year 1994.  Oh yes, and a whale IS caught later on in the film.

For a film about a David v.s. a Goliath, Addelman does not invoke enough anger or rile up sufficiently the audience’s emotions as in other documentaries like BANANAS! or INSIDE JOB.  His film lets the audience decide for themselves how unjust the big corporations are.  The rare time it does is when the film echoes Swan’s frustration, such as when she visits Copenhagen during the climate change conference.

At this present time, the litigation is still ongoing.  The film does not inform the audience of any of the results that could be found on Wikipedia.  The documentary just turns out to be as effective as a bunch of old natives squabbling about their rights. 

LOLA VERSUS (USA 2012) **
Directed Daryl Wein

 

The second film by the writing team of Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister Jones (BREAKIN UPWARDS) and the directorial debut of Wein, LOLA VERSUS is another film about breaking up.

This time around, it is not the break up process but the aftermath that is under examination.  Dumped by her boyfriend Luke (Joel Kinnaman) just three weeks before their wedding, Lola (Greta Gerwig) enlists her close friends for a series of adventures she hopes will help her come to terms with approaching 30 as a single woman.  Most of the support is offered by best friend Zoe (writer Jones herself).  The adventures include dating a stranger, Roger (Cheyenne Jackson) and Luke’s best friend (Hamish Linklater).

For a movie with this theme to work, the audience has to sympathize and feel for the main character.  The script offers no help in this respect, and it does not help that the Luke character is in reality not a bad person, but one confused at most.  Lola muddles about and it does not take long for the audience to wonder when she would just wake up, comes to her senses, deal with her loss and get on with life.

Her parents (Debra Winger and Bill Pullman) do not so much nor offer any real useful advice for Lola.  The two characters could have been removed from the script without much effect.

When Lola’s character mutters to herself and begins self analysis out loud, the film feels like sub-par Woody Allen.  The humour is mild at most and humorous rather than laugh out loud funny.  The one funny segment is Lola breaking up with Roger, Godfather style.

The lack of a happy ending is good is the sense that it stops short of clichéd territory.  In a Hollywood film, Lola would have fallen in love with and ended up with Luke’s best friend.  But this also serves as a disadvantage of a dissatisfying an audience used to Hollywood happy endings.

MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT (USA 2012) ****

Directed by Matthew Akers

Documentaries are often as interesting as their subjects.  Fortunately for director Matthew Akers, his subject the outrageous artist Marina Abramovic is so intriguing, she totally captivates her unsuspecting audience.  And as a bonus, she also transforms the way one looks at art and earns ones admiration for it.

This intimate and revealing documentary takes the audience inside the creative world of the fearless, outrageous and iconic performance artist Marina Abramović as she rigorously prepares herself for what could be a career-defining retrospective of her work at New York''s Museum of Modern Art.  Her hours of preparation and talent are on show.  Akers also shows her as a human being as she talks candidly about wanting a man.

Initially deemed crazy, she has finally, after 40 years gained the respect of the art world.  This time, she has pushed herself beyond her physical and mental limits (and at times actually risking her life) to create performances that challenge and shock the world.

The reason of the film''s title ''the artist is present'' is that she grants audiences during her exhibit, a 15 minute sitting session with her.  She sits with each person with a table separating them, then removing the table during the last few days of the exhibition.  Sitting in one position with no speaking throughout the day and throughout the entire exhibition duration can be exhaustive for the body and mind.  The queue to get into the museum to have a chance to sit with marina is extremely long.

Akers camera is also lucky to catch one particular woman who decides to do the sitting totally in the nude but is taken away by security just as she takes off her clothes.  But Akers does not dismiss her as plain crazy.  She is given a chance to offer on camera an explanation for her behavior.  And she totally makes sense though she apologizes for not knowing and breaking the rules.

The sitting is not the exhibit is about.  Her other designs are most intriguing and imaginative as well, and has to be seen to be believed.

Aker''s MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT takes his audience on the ins and outs of Marina''s art world and blows his audience away.

ROCK OF AGES (USA 2012) **

Directed by Adam Shankman


One year in production delays, but the film adaptation of the 2006 comedy rock Broadway musical hits North American screens this week.  But with mixed results!

Featuring the music of Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard, Foreigner, Journey, Poison, Europe, twisted Sister among others, the film like the stage production, aims at great success.  But the film suffers from a tiresome well worn plot of a romance between two aspiring newcomers and lacklustre direction.  The choreography is sufficiently energetic, which is expected, given that director Shankman is also a choreographer by profession.  But expect no grandeur that comes even close to say, The Who’s’ TOMMY which had a bang on super story of a deaf, dumb blind boy who becomes the new pinball champion of the world.  Here in ROCK OF AGES, they guy gets the girl after a silly misunderstanding.  How unoriginal!

The film is enlivened by a motley crew of stars that one might assume would pay to strut and show off their stuff on screen.  Tom Cruise and Catherine Zeta-Jones ham their roles way over the top.  Russell Brand performs the film’s funniest moment when he playing Lonny makes a MIDNIGHT COWBOY walk across a busy downtown street cahnting: “I’m walking here. I’m walking here!”  But all the excesses are good needed fun for a rock musical to rock.  The film really puts down boy bands.  Boy bands do their thing with different crowds and one would expect a little respect from the rock lovers for other musical genres.

The plot of the film can pretty much summed up by the first few lines of the song “Don’t Stop Believing” which is also featured at the end of the film.  Small town girl, Sherrie (Julianne Hough) leaves home and enters Hollywood by bus and meets city boy, Drew (Diego Boneta) who works for Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) at a bar.  Dennis hires and hopes to make money to pay the taxes and save his place by hiring the infamous Stacee Jaxzx (Tom Cruise) under management from a questionable Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti).  Other troubles include a possible cleaning up of the strip, headed by the mayor’s wife (Played by Catherine-Zeta Jones).  Drew and Sherrie fall madly in love.  They split up when Drew things Sherrie had put out for Stacee Jaxx, but when they come back together at the end when he learns he was mistaken.

The hum drum story really eats into the spontaneity that is needed of a film of this sort.  But the musical numbers are heavily edited to give the jumpy, lively feel but the disadvantage is that one cannot see a whole choreographed sequence in its entirety.

The gay musical number between Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand was likely put in to provide comic relief just as the Pontius Pilate gay number did wonders in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.  But more embarrassing, uncomfortable and unbelievable, this sequence does not do as much as expected.  The newcomers playing the leads actually are quite good, especially the unknown Boneta who commands screen presence whenever he appears to do any kind of musical number.

But despite the well choreographed songs and well mixed edited songs (often two songs are edited and mixed to sound as if they were one), ROCK OF AGES still comes across as disappointing lacklustre affair.  Romance between teens, disappointment in a big city, making it good despite odds – all of which have been seen in dozens of movies before!

THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH (UK/France 2012) ***

Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski


What starts off as a child custody drama escalates to something psychologically disturbing in director Pawel Pawlikowski intriguing film called WOMAN IN THE FIFTH based on the novel of the same name.

The fifth of the film title refers to the 5th arrondissement, which divides Paris where the film is set.  The film begins with troubled American writer Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke) arriving in Paris, desperate to reunite with his six-year-old daughter who is now living here with his estranged French wife.  When things don’t go according to plan, Tom ends up living in a seedy hotel and working as a night guard to make ends meet.

When Tom meets a mysterious stranger (Kristen Scott Thomas) with whom Tom begins an affair, his life changes with a series of inexplicable events taking place.

Pawlikowski who amazed critics with the disturbing lesbian drama SUMMER OF LOVE continues to fascinate with another challenging story.  As the film progresses, the story becomes more gripping and compelling.  Pawlikowski is able to create great tension out of seedy everyday events.

The Paris seen here is not the City of Lights that tourists are familiar with.  The seedier areas are shown where the scum of the city hang out.  If one walks for example down the Pigalle area in the early hours of any morning, the ugly and scary side of Paris can be experienced.  (I did this on my first visit to Paris and wondered why everyone thought Paris was beautiful.)   This is the Paris that enhances and interests Pawlikowski in his storytelling.

But too many events occur during the film’s last 30 minutes.  Tom begins another affair with the girl, Ania (Joanna Kulig) working in his hotel.  The police arrive and inform Tom of a murder and other bad stuff that have happened.  The mysterious stranger disappears and not one has ever met her.  Her apartment has been deemed unoccupied by the neighbours.  Tom’s daughter goes missing.  All this is a bit much less incredible to take in, and one wonders if the director has himself played a joke on the audience or turns a bit crazy.

Whether THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH turns out as a satisfactory psychological thriller depends on how one interprets the last bits of the film.  But one has to hand it that what appears to be a slow ordinary film has turned up something completely different.

The film is shot in French and English with a little bit of Polish.

YOUR SISTER’S SISTER (USA 2011) **

Directed by Lynn Shelton


YOUR SISTER’S SISTER is a small budget actor ensemble piece of filmmaking with only 3 characters.  It goes against the big Hollywood style of filmmaking.  While good to see this change in an American movie, it however does not necessarily mean that it is a good film.

The film begins at a memorial, a year after Jack’s brother’s death.  Jack (Mark Duplass) is still so distraught over his brother’s death that he is still out of work and mentally a little unstable.  His brother’s ex girl friend Iris (Emily Blunt) lets Jack stay at the family island cabin to get himself sorted..  But Iris’ lesbian sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) happens to be at the cabin already.  After a drunken night, Jack beds Hannah which leads to considerable drama.

The actors interact very well and the result is quite compelling drama.  It turns out that Iris is secretly in love with Jack and that Hannah wants a baby.  So, Hannah has an ulterior motive for having sex with Jack.

When the bombshell drops and Jack finds out Hannah’s desire to have a kid, he is reasonably upset.  But if the audience is attentive, the audience would remember that they did the act with condoms.  But that is where the film gets interesting as the plot has many twists.  The film also has a clever open ending.

But Shelton’s film contains one major flaw and that is with Jack’s character.  One can hardly believe that these two composed females would want a man who is totally lost nor is that attractive.  No matter what transpires then comes across as hardly believable.  It would help if the actor playing Jack is a super good looking hunk or if his character is charismatic or intelligent.

The result is a film with an unbelievable story that despite its good performances fails as a whole.

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening: Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

Best Film Playing: Moonrise Kingdom

 

Best Action: Marvel’s The Avengers
Best Drama: The Deep Blue Sea
Best Foreign: The IntouchaMoonrise Kingdom
Best Family: Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
Best Documentary: Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

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