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This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 24, 2012)

23 Aug 2012

PREMUIM RUSH, HIT AND RUN and ROBOT & FRANK are 3 big films opening this week.  But foreign flicks EASY MONEY are also worth a look!

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

The Swedes already has an EASY MONEY sequel in the making while Hollywood has also started on an American version of EASY MONEY.  EASY MONEY is clearly a top 10 film of 2012 both commercial and critical-wise.  A must-see! 

THE APPARITION (USA 2012) **

Directed by Todd Lincoln


The movie’s caption “Believe and you Die” sounds like something right out of a Japanese horror flick.  But first time debuting director Todd Lincoln has his own rules though the film is shot with jerky hand held camera and grainy print.

Director Lincoln own rule is that he follows no rules of horror films.  There is no strong narrative, hardly a story, no climax, no happy ending.  To his credit, one does not know where his film is leading to, but to his discredit, the film has no satisfactory ending, as witnessed by the hissing at the film’s promotional screening.

When frightening events start to occur in their home, young couple Kelly (Ashley Greene) and Ben (Sebastian Stan) discover they are being haunted by a presence that was accidentally conjured during a university parapsychology experiment called the Chris Experiment.  The horrifying apparition feeds on their fear and torments them no matter where they try to run. Their last hope is an expert in the supernatural, Patrick (Tom Felton), but even with his help they may already be too late to save themselves from this terrifying force.

Tom Felton (Draco from the HARRY POTTER films) steals the show as the odd ball paranormal expert wannabe while Ashley Green and Sebastian Stan were just probably hired for their good looks.

Nothing is ever explained in the film either, as to the origin of the ghost and the purpose of wanting to come into the human’s world does not quite gel either.  One thing that lifts this film out of the ordinary horror film is the bounty of good horror scenes.  These include a hand covering a character’s mouth from behind, the bed sheet covering and suffocating a sleeping and unsuspecting Kelly and Ben affixed to the ceiling, among others.  Lincoln does not appear to care about anything else but shooting of these scary segments, which to his credit are pretty intense.

Giving Lincoln his right for his originality and refusal to follow the rules, THE APPARITION might still be worth a visit.  At least this film is better than THE POSSESSION which is really the bottom of the pits of a horror film, which opens next week,

DARWIN (USA 2011) ***

Directed by Nick Brandestini

 

As the saying goes: “It can only happen in America.”  The documentary DARWIN is about an isolated community at the end of a worn road in Death Valley, California.

Directed by Swiss born Nick Brandestini who claims that he was always fascinated by the American way if life, he came across the subject accidentally while on a drive trough the Mojave Desert.  Drawn to the ghost towns of the area, he became curious about the inhabitants, past and present.  DARWIN tells of the people who live in such a seemingly inhospitable place.

DARWIN is about Darwin, California, where commerce and government have virtually evaporated and where 35 people call it home.

Director Brandestini interviews the inhabitants of Darwin.  These include a salty old miner and his firecracker wife; the hippie postmaster; the transgendering 20-something and his partner.  These have moved to Darwin to escape society.

Brandestini then documents the survival of the tow.  Propelled from society by tragic turns, the people of Darwin find ways to coexist in a place without a government, a church, jobs or children.  The near-ghost town’s survival depends on a fragile, gravity-fed waterline that descends from the mountains where top secret weapons are being tested.  One “accidental” drop of a bomb, they half-joke, could wipe out their entire town.

That is all of what DARWIN is about.  No messages here – just information about different people in an intriguing situation.  The doc is thus as interesting as the people of Darwin, which might be boring to some audiences while fascinating to others.

EASY MONEY (Sweden 2012) ***** Top 10

Directed by Daniel Espinosa

The film begins with a prison breakout by low life Jorge (Matias Varela).  But the film is not about him as the film’s intricate plot later involves unpredictable double cross after double cross.  Just as the film, a crime drama turns out to be much more – a look of Swedish class in an otherwise classless society as well as an expertly told tale of romance, suspense and action.

In EASY MONEY, character JW Joel Kinnaman) is studying economics at university while driving a cab. One night at a party, he takes a liking to socialite Sophie (Lisa Henni) who is very much out of his league.   Sophie loves him unconditionally but he keeps his dealings from her.  JW is doing his writing term papers for his fellow students, along with working for Abdulkarim (Mahmut Suvakci), a local crime boss. One such job for him involves tailing Jorge (Matias Varela) who recently escaped from jail, which brings him to the attention of Radovan (Dejan Cukic), Abdulkarim''s rival.  JW even goes above the call of duty, by rescuing Jorge from a savage beating from Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic).

Despite being a crime film, the film’s characterizations are strong.  The audience is sympathetic to JW from his saving of Jorge and his romance with Sophie.  The class system is examined as JW struggles to impress Sophie’s parents during a dinner meeting.  It is just hilarious when JW says he sails only to have Sophie’s father remark that he can then look after her in the yacht as she does not know anything.  The complex Swedish society is also revealed through the existence of Spanish, Serbian and Arab characters in the story.  Being from a small northern Swedish town, JW is as much out of place as the immigrants.

The violence in the film is not harmless superficial violence as those found in horror films like SAW.  Here, the violence hits close to home.  A huge weapon is taken out in the full view of Mrado’s very young daughter.  When the violence affects family and the character’s loved ones, the danger becomes scary and real.

As the film progresses towards its climax, the story takes an excellent twist in a big double cross.  Though basically a suspenser, the end action scenes are also handled with great flair.

Main actor Joel Kinnaman is in my opinion the sexiest male actor in today’s cinema.  He has also been seen in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO and the recent LOLA VERUS as well as to be seen in the upcoming ROBOCOP.  He speaks fluent Swedish.  Nothing is known so far about Kinnaman whether he is Swede or American but one thing can be for sure.  He will be the hottest star in movies in a year ore two.

The Swedes already has an EASY MONEY sequel in the making while Hollywood has also started on an American version of EASY MONEY.  EASY MONEY is clearly a top 10 film of 2012 both commercial and critical-wise.  A must-see!

PREMIUM RUSH  (USA 2012) ****

Directed by David Koepp


Who would want to see a bike version of FAST AND FURIOUS?  If the main story of a messenger chased around the whole movie by a crooked cop sounds silly, maybe it is, but the scriptwriters Koepp himself and John Kamps know their stuff.

The script has all the elements that make a good movie – in fact a good suspense movie that would even make the Master of Suspense Hitchcock proud.  There is the romance element, very exciting chases around the very busy Manhattan streets, and lots of suspense and audience anticipation.  It takes half the film before it is revealed what the bike messenger is actually carrying.  Like in Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST, the real reason for the story is unimportant – what is more important is what happens to the lead characters and how the good guys overcome the bad ones.                                                  Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the best bicycle messenger in the city of Manhattan.  He works for Security Couriers with his girl, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez).  When Vanessa’s roommate Nima (Jamie Chung) runs into trouble that requires a receipt to be delivered on time, Wilee and Vanessa help out.  But hot on their heels is a crooked sadistic NYPD cop, Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) who would stop at nothing (including murder) to steal the receipt.

PREMIUM RUSH is a chase film from start to end, pretty much like NORTH BY NORTHWEST.  The only difference here is that the whole story is set in Manhattan.  The climatic scene takes place in a police towing lot but most of the other chases occur in the streets.  There are enough distractions to keep the audience from being bored.  Other chases take place in the park.  One is Wilee’s ability to work out in his mind possible route alternatives that might run dangerous or safe.  These are shown full with the possible accidents.

Michael Shannon makes a good sinister villain - the type that that would take a cigarette to a kid’s balloon (Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN).  The torture sequence in the ambulance is nerve wrecking.  At one point in the film, his character confesses that he is mentally unstable.

One noticeable fact about the film is the film’s total disregard for the law.  Besides the LAPD cops being the bad guys, Monday and the Bike Cop (Christopher Place), riding the bike all over the city on the sidewalks, pedestrian paths on the wrong way on One-Way streets are considered cool.  The illegal transportation of immigrants by payment (the purpose of the messenger’s receipt) is also not looked down upon.  The gambling in Chinatown is taken as a given acceptable fact.  The narrative also says that doing a bike courier’s job is preferable to an educated lawyer’s job in the office.

Koepp moves his movie at break neck speed giving the audience the premium rush of the film’s title.  For all that it is worth, PREMIUM RUSH has all the elements of good filmmaking and it delivers entertainment at high speed, the type favoured by today’s audiences.

HIT AND RUN (USA 2012) ***1/2

Directed by David Palmer and Dax Shepard

The comedy HIT AND RUN is not about a hit and run accident.  Nor is it a chase comedy.  In reality, it is a romantic comedy about a couple getting it all together.

HIT AND RUN is a comedy about a young couple, Annie and Charlie Bronson (real life couple Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard) that risks it all when they leave their small town life and embark on a road trip that may lead them towards the opportunity of a lifetime.  Their fast-paced road trip grows awkwardly complicated and hilarious when they are chased by a friend from the past (Bradley Cooper), a federal marshal, Randy (Tom Arnold) and a band of misfits.  The whole cast of characters consists of misfits in one form or other, including Annie who cannot decide on who is her true love.

The film begins with an extended romantic session between the two leads.  It is clear then that it is the love story that propels the plot.  There is nothing wrong with this as this tactic worked very well with THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in which the romance between Spidey and his girl made the whole story work.  What HIT AND RUN misses in terms of laughs, it more than makes up in terms of the romantic slant.

The script contains good dialogue, especially during the confrontation scenes between Annie and Charlie.  Both points of view are valid and make sense.  The reactions of Charlie to Annie’s move are also spot on – the type one would expect in such an argument.

HIT AND RUN contains a few laugh-out loud segments though these are few and far between.  The car chases are adequate and nothing out of the ordinary.  It is easy to shoot a chase in the country where there is less traffic than in the city.  The chemistry of the two leads is strong, expected since the two are a real life couple.

But HIT AND RUN has lots of spirit and the film shows.  It also makes one of the better American romantic comedies churned out this year.

ROBOT & FRANK (USA 2012) ***1/2

Directed by Rob Schreier

Set in the near future, an ex-jewel thief, Frank (Frank Langella) receives a gift from his son (John Marsden): a robot butler (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) programmed to look after him.   But soon the two companions try their luck as a heist team.

To solve the problem of credibility, the title ‘set in the near future’ cleverly appears on the screen.  Whatever advances in robot technology is thus accepted by the audience.  The robot is able to cook, garden, aid the planning of a heist but more importantly become a true friend and companion to the aging, senile and irritable Frank.  When the robot tells Frank to erase all his memory so that the police cannot trace any evidence of their heist, it seems that the robot has made the ultimate sacrifice by giving up its life to Frank.

Though the film at first appearance looks sentimental mish-mush, it is in reality an entertaining comedy caper.  Once the robot appears at Frank’ doorstep, the laughs start and the humour never relents.

Frank Langella delivers an effortless performance as the ageing Frank – definitely Oscar winning material.  Langella inhabits his role so comfortably that one would not know that he is acting.  The script need not contain dramatic confrontation scenes to prove his acting worth.

At the end of the film, the audience can only wish they had a robot like Frank had – the perfect selfless companion.  The film runs only 90 minutes and could have covered more substance but still the film comes off short and sweet.

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening: Easy Money

Best Film Playing: Easy Money
Best Action: Premium Rush
Best Drama: Savages
Best Foreign: Easy Money (Sweden) Best Comedy: Paranorman
Best Family: Brave
Best Documentary: First Position

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