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This Week's Film Reviews (Jul 13, 2012)

12 Jul 2012

Openings this week are ICE AGE: CONITNETAL DRIFT and smaller films like BOY, COLLABORATOR and BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD.

The Summer in France series at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, for those close to Toronto.

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (USA 2012) **

Directed by Ben Zeitlin

 

One of the most talked about films at Sundance, BEATS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD also screened at Cannes to great hullabaloo.

But films like this one and say PRECIOUS where the message of suffering and poverty of a people is screamed out at ones face, often fail to impress (me).  This is a story of a surviving young girl who goes by the name of HushPuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) (how cute?  Can one dislike anyone with that name and who has a look as cute as this child?) who lives in a shanty shack in deep poverty.  Her father (Dwight Henry) is sick and dying of a cancer.  He keeps it from her, but she discovers the truth and in the trauma, screams to find her mother, who seems to be able to light fires out of nothing, just as HushPuppy can tame huge gigantic beasts of the wild that appear out of nowhere.  The characters are poor and live in a sort of bayou/wilderness separated from the rest of the world by a built up levee.

The film contains too much fantasy mixed uncomfortably with reality so that the whole narrative often does not make sense.  Just as the film contains many arresting images but the camera work looks shoddy with the shaking frames.  These arresting images can also be nasty like the close-up of crawly creepies.

A community that fights together stays together.  When father is committed, HushPuppy engineers his escape together with fellow neighbours.  The director does not give a hoot that it is probably better for the father to stay and receive medical attention in the makeshift hospital.  The workers have come to the aid of these people in distress (after Hurricane Katrina) and they are not give the time of day in the movie.  Everyone including the director seems to be in a fantasy world.

The image of HushPuppy running facing the camera with two firework sparklers in her hands on outstretched arms is just too much.  What happened to subtlety?  And what happened to fantasy that makes sense, and not just put out for show?  BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD’s only saving grace are its disturbing depiction of the living conditions of this family in the shanty shacks.

BOY (New Zealand 2010) ***

Directed by Taika Waititi


The second feature of director Taika Waititi (EAGLE v.s. SHARK), this coming-of-age First Nations feature is a sweet tribute to the culture of the 80’s and understandably became quite the box-office hit in New Zealand.

There is nothing really exceptional to this film or story but one must give credit Waititi for making such a heartfelt seemingly down-to-earth feature.  The protagonist is the BOY of the film’s title.  In the Moari Community on New Zealand’s east coast is Boy (James Rolleston), a preteen who loves everything about Jackson, including the fact that he lives in a “castle with a snake and a monkey.”  Boy himself lives in a tiny house with his younger brother (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu), a tribe of cousins, his Nan and a backyard goat.  Boy’s mother died giving birth to his brother.  His father Alamein (played by Waititi himself) has been gone for 7 years.  Boy imagines his father as a deep sea diver, a war hero – and a Michael Jackson clone (with dance moves to match).  In reality, his dad is in jail for robbery.

The father appears one day out of the blue, to Boy’s delight.  Of course the father is not all that perfect Boy had imagined him to be and thus starts his learning process in his coming-of-age passage.  There is really nothing in this film that audiences have not seen in similar coming-of-age films except that this is set in a Moari environment and the fact that there seems to be a certain earnestness in the story-telling.

No one is perfect in this film, not even Boy but just ordinary human beings subject to both love and hurt.  And often within the hurt comes the difficult learning.

Rollerstone is winning as BOY as director Waititi is utterly convincing as the complex father.

The film went on to win won many awards, including the Grand Prix (Best Feature Film) in the Generation section at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival.  The film was
inspired by Waititi’s 2005 Oscar-nominated short TWO CARS, ONE NIGHT.  The film took 2 years but is finally here.

COLLABORATOR (USA 2012) **
Directed by Martin Donovan

Writing and directing debut for actor Martin Donovan has an interesting concept but gets bogged down in its theatrical display of the material.

The story concerns Robert Longfellow (Martin Donovan), a famous playwright who cannot seem to catch a break.  His recent Broadway play was met with horrible reviews and an early cancellation, and his marriage is being tested as an old flame (Olivia Williams) has re-entered his life during a particular moment of weakness.  Retreating back to his childhood home to visit his mother (Katherine Helmond), Robert crosses paths with his childhood neighbour, Gus (David Morse). A right-wing, ex-con who still lives at home with his mother, Gus is Robert''s polar opposite in every possible way. When Gus holds Robert hostage at gunpoint during a drunken re gone terribly wrong, the drama unfolds with unexpected results.

The concept involves the two men discussing key issues with the final effect of their lives affecting each other, which is one of the issues argued by the two.  This could also somehow weave into Robert’s future play or perhaps be part of a play performed which is a success.

But the problem with the film number one is its credibility.  That Robert would be taken hostage for no reason except for the fact that the cops show up is problematic.  That they immediately discuss key issues is also odd.  Would a disturbed ex-con have a valid view?  This film assumes so, so that Robert gets his brain jostled a few times.  The patience that Robert bears for the idiotic Gus is also mind blowing.  But Robert does lose it in the end.

The portion of Gus tormenting his favourite actress on the phone is also brutally dull to watch.  Since Robert has told her that all is well, she should have just hung up.

The issues discussed include high minded topics like art, culture and the purpose of the Vietnam War.  But what does the film hope to achieve with all this?  The two eventually embark in a silly theatrical game which is also just as boring as it is meaningless.

The film is too theatrical with the two arguing their points to and fro.  One can hardly ait for the cops to come in and end the whole hostage process.  And the film as well!

ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT (USA 2012) ***

Directed by Steve Lartino and Mike Thurmeier

The premise of the 4th of the ICE AGE films is the continental drift that occurs as the ice breaks up during the ice age. This drift causes animal families to spit apart.

Continents are formed.  But the families are broken up.  The character Manny (Ray Romano) is separated from his wife and daughter who also spears to be growing up too fast for father’s comfort.  Manny with friends Sid (Denis Leary ) and Diego (John Leguizamo) with Sid’s hilarious grandmother (Wanda Sykes) must find their way home.

Of course, all this is an excuse for some adventures, this time involving pirates.

The film contains an average storyline but the directors up the humour with the animal characters in terms of antics and goofiness.

The returning humour of Scrat (Chris Wedge) chasing his acorn causing cracks in the ice or earth and creating havoc is tiring.  Working like the Road Runner and Coyote kind of humour, the repetition grows tiresome after a while despite new situations (an acorn forms the plug for the city of Atlantis).  One obvious goof in the film that a child would also be able to detect is the reference of a pirate to the Easter Bunny.  Easter comes during the times of Christ way before the Ice Age.

The least famous of the animate franchises say compared to SHREK or the toy STORY films, ICE AGE works with a moderate budget with less famous actors compared to Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers or Tom Hanks.  ICE AGE has Aziz Ansari, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary with expensive guests such as Jennifer Lopez as Shira.

The film contains no message or big romance though it must have been tempting to sneak one on the environment in.   The stress is on the strength of family bonding and friendship with the ending song “We Are Family” highlighting the course.  With this moderate budget, the entertaining fourth of the series CONTINENTAL DRIFT should come up another winner in the ICE AGE series.

.

SQUARE (USA 2011) ***

Directed by Nancy Savoca

The Lucy (Mira Sorvino) character is so annoying, she is compelling to watch.  So, is the character of her sister, Jenny (Tammy Blanchard) so tormented by her visiting sister, that she is even more watchable.

The two together, arguing, fighting and finally coming to terms with each other and reality forms the premise of Nancy Savoca’s (TRUE LOVE, DOGFIGHT) sibling drama.

The film begins with Lucy arriving in the Bronx.  Calling her lover on the payphone, getting mad at him, breaking up and losing it on the streets reveal the unstable nature of Lucy.  She pays a surprise visit to her sister Jenny, who appears not to want anything to do with her sister.  Naturally, Lucy forces herself on her as a guest, to somewhat odd amusement.

Jenny is on the brink of marriage while Lucy the opposite.  Lucy appears the personification of all that Jenny has been trying to flee - surprises her at a critical time. Lucy and Jenny''s combustible re brings both of them to unforeseen places, shattering and reconstructing the worlds they have both carefully constructed.

Sorvino and Blanchard are very good together, playing off each others characters.  A lot of ensemble acting can be immediately sensed but this does not stop the script from delivering a surprise or two in plot development.  As in WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?  the crippled Joan Crawford sister turned out to be the bad one rather than the tormenting other sister BETTE DAVIS, the overbearing Lucy turns out to be the good and Jenny the black sheep of the family.

Other than that, Savoca’s film is mainly actor’s drama.  That might bore some audiences but still SQUARE contains fine and fascinating ensemble acting.

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening: Boy

Best Film Playing: The Amazing Spider-Man
Best Action: The Amazing Spider-Man
Best Drama: Savages
Best Foreign: The Intouchables (France)
Best Comedy: The Dictator
Best Family: Brave
Best Documentary: Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

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