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This Week's Film Reviews (Sep 21, 2012)

21 Sep 2012

Opening this week are DREDD 3D in spectacular 3D (not just 3d enhanced, please read review below) , HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET and END OF WATCH.

DREDD 3D (South Africa) **

Directed by Pete Travis

A reboot of the Sylvester Stallone movie based on the Brit comic character, Judge DREDD (Karl Urban) is the lead law enforcer forced to take down Drug Queen Ma-Ma (Lena Headey).  In the process, he is assigned a psychic-powerful rookie, Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) who he is supposed to grade a pass or fail as the two begin their take down in a high rise apartment.

It all takes place in the dystopian future, as the film introduces at the start.  The future America is an irradiated wasteland. On its East Coast, running from Boston to Washington DC, lies Mega City One - a vast, violent metropolis where criminals rule the chaotic streets. The only force of order lies with the urban cops called "Judges" who possess the combined powers of judge, jury and instant executioner. Known and feared throughout the city, Dredd is the ultimate Judge, challenged with ridding the city of its latest scourge - a dangerous drug epidemic that has users of "Slo-Mo" experiencing reality at a fraction of its normal speed.

Karl Urban does most of his acting with his lower jaw, which is the only part of his head that can be seen outside the mask/helmet.  To his credit, it is a handsome jaw.

But the overall narrative is weak and the film lacks any twists in plot or inventive subplots.  The takedown looks very similar to the recent Indonesian entry THE RAID: REDEMPTION, with more special effects than manual martial-arts.

But what DREDD falls short of, the film more than makes up for in its 3D effects.  Everything and all details are 3D mastered here, from when the film was first shot, not just given the last touch up.

END OF WATCH (USA 2011) ***

Directed by David Ayer

David Ayer of TRAINING DAY plunges audiences into the lives private and working, of 2  LAPD cops, Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Para).  This time around, both are dedicated men, as outlined by the monologue at the start of the film on what the police are – brothers belonging to the good fighting crime.  The daily routines eventually get the boys face to face with drug traffickers who want vengeance.  In order to achieve authenticity of the use of the handheld camera, Ayer gives the excuse of Taylor a night-school student in film production, thus allowing him to affix tiny cameras to his and Zavala's uniforms to record their daily routines, collecting material for a short video about the real lives of the LAPD.   This is a bit much as there is also a member of the drug trafficker filming stuff.  If that is not enough, Ayer includes ‘a morning of the event’ sequence after the climax of the film that serves no purpose at all.  Other than that, Ayer’s film is a riveting examination of the LAPD that should excite, thrill and entertain.


Directed by Mark Tonderai

The new horror film HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET has its scary moments but the film also includes other genres such as family drama (mother/daughter relationship), teen romance and bullying.

Just after a divorce, mother Sarah (Elizabeth Shue) moves into a cheap large house with her daughter, Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence).  The price is affordable for the fact that the neighboring house (which can be seen from the property) has a history of a double murder.  The daughter apparently murdered her father and mother and drowned though the body is not found.  When the two move in next door, things go creakity creak in the dark.  It is discovered then that Ryan (Max Thieriot), the boy of the murdered family is still living next door.  As the murder history brings the price of real estate down, the boy, the townsfolk treat Ryan unfairly.

As it happens, daughter falls for Ryan and mother becomes concerned.  The film does contain a killer and it is revealed that there is a mad girl confined in the room of the house at the end of the street.  Though there is no shortage of suspects, it is not difficult to guess who the killer is.  At the same time, the audience is served with a mother and daughter confrontation.  The local cop (James Thomas) comes into play half way through the movie, and as in all films (example PSYCHO) in which this occurs, the killer does with the cop away.  The fall down the stairs is reminiscent of Martin Balsam’s fall down the stairs in PSYCHO.

The film contains nothing new in the genre of horror slasher movie.  The false alarms, revelation of killer’s identity (I guessed it within the first 15 minute of he film), clichéd bits are all there as expected.  The film is relatively well done - just don’t expect anything novel.

Don’t be fooled by the title.  HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET is not a haunted house movie.  It is a slasher flick.  Unfortunately, that is the only surprise of the film.

 AURENCE ANYWAYS (Canada/France 2012) ****

Directed by Xavier Dolan

A romantic epic of an untenable love affair lasting 160 minutes, LAURENCE ANYWAYS is nevertheless an excellent film in all sense of the word. 

Xavier Dolan’s (J’AI TUE MA MERE) third feature, LAURENCE ANYWAYS is his most stylish and mature work to date. The film centres on the tortured, on-again, off-again relationship between Laurence (French actor Melvil Poupaud), a writer and teacher, and his girlfriend Fred (Suzanne Clément), a line producer on film productions. As the film opens, they’re ensconced in one of their favourite places: the car wash, a fitting emblem for their claustrophobic relationship. Devout bohemians who have little interest in conventional mores, they lead a charmed existence buoyed by their contempt for virtually everyone else on the planet.  One day out of the blue, Laurence confesses that he believes he’s a woman trapped in a man’s body. Initially shocked, Fred soon decides to carry on as if nothing has happened. But as family pressures and her own doubts begin to mount, the couple drifts apart. 

 No stranger to drama and conflict, Dolan’s film contains the most arresting confrontational scenes.  Those that stand out include the ones between Laurence and his mother (Nathalie Baye) and one in the coffee shop.  The latter that involves Fred losing it at the waitress has the camera following the couple out of the restaurant and even following Fred home as if to highlight even more the lady’s distress. 

  Dolan who also masterminded the costumes has created some very impressive set pieces, especially those involving the squad of performing cross-dressers that Laurence meets.  The film contains a few indulgences (water pouring from the ceiling in a living room) but these can be forgiven, as they are visually stunning.

Acting in the acting department is nothing short of superb.  Clement and Baye excel just as Poupaud is just as good.  The actors are Quebecois except for the leads Poupard and Baye, who are French French.  The likely reason is the film being co-production between France and Canada.  The accents spoken by the Poupard and Baye, son and mother characters retain their French origins whereas others speak with the Quebec accent.  The brief and acceptable explanation is that the mother moved from Europe to Quebec early on. 

  If Canada were to submit this excellent film as it entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards and it was nominated, it would be interesting to see what would happen.  The Academy would favour the film for its content, as it likes to show his openness but on the other hand might not want to hand the prize to such a young filmmaker.  Nevertheless, Cannes shunned this film but it is with great pleasure that Canada recognized its own by giving it the prize for the Best Canadian Feature this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

THE MASTER (USA 2012) **

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Like Anderson’s last feature THERE WILL BE BLOOD, THE MASTER is a test of two wills between a veteran huckster and a young angry man.  And the film features both actors’ best performances.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a troubled soldier in post–World War II America. Stripped of every common civility, he rages through life like an animal, unable to keep a job, to attract a woman, to live in his own skin. By chance one night he jumps on board a docked ship and stows away as it sets sail. He soon discovers that the ship belongs to one Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the charismatic founder of a new religion. With his wife (Amy Adams), Dodd probes the unconscious minds of his subjects, driving them to reveal hidden vulnerabilities. The cerebral Dodd and his feral stowaway appear to be complete opposites, but they strike up a surprising friendship. In scenes of sometimes shocking soul bearing, the two forge a primal bond — until the disciple begins to question his authority.

The real problem with Quell’s personality is assumed to be derived from the war.  But from what particular incident, nothing is mentioned.  If this was the case, there would be hundred more Freddie types creating havoc in the U.S.  When Anderson is short of dialogue material in the script, he reverts to screaming matches between Freddie and Dodd.  The prison cell sequence involving an embarrassing moment in which Freddie breaks the toilet bowl is unnecessary.

The choice of the type of cult Dodd dabble in could have been more selected for more credibility.  The one chosen involves time travel and out of body spirits.  During arguments, especially the one (the film’s best segment) between Dodd and a John More (Christopher Evan More) favors More’s arguments.  The scene in which Dodd explains to Freddie their first meeting as pigeon postal workers during the Persian War is ludicrous.

The sparse musical soundtrack by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood only reflects the sparseness of the story.  At a cost of $40 million, Anderson’s first period piece (this is set just after WWII) is shot in dimly lit colors.

The problem of THE MASTER is the whimsical storyline coined up by Anderson and the fact that he is re-using material of the hotheaded protagonists.  Anderson could have done better!


Directed by Robert Lorenz

Clint Eastwood takes a break from the director’s chair - a good break after the horrid EDGAR J, to take the main role in the baseball film TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE.

Though not directed by Eastwood, the film plays like many of his critical hits like MILLION DOLLAR BABY in which near the end of the film, it is revealed that the film is actually a love story.  In the case of MDB, it was between coach and boxer but in this film it is one between a father and daughter.  The baseball is just the background.  But this film grabs you, though it plays so safe with the storytelling that many critics will complain it to be a predictable.

Interesting enough, the film plays in a complete different field in comparison with the last major baseball film MONEYBALL.  Whereas that film dealt with the importance of statistics and numbers on the success of the game, this one dispels anything to do with computers and such.  It is old school.  Eastwood plays Gus Lobel, a baseball talent scout that relies on observation in order to select the next season’s winner.  Nevertheless, Gus-who can tell a pitch just by the crack of the bat-refuses to be benched for what may be the final innings of his career. He may not have a choice. The front office of the Atlanta Braves is starting to question his judgment, especially with the country''s hottest batting phenomenon on deck for the draft. According to Gus, no statistics or numbers can predict someone’s comeback.  But his failing health forces his best friend Pete (John Goodman) to ask his daughter, Mickey a successful lawyer about to make partner (Amy Adams) follow Gus to his next scouting city to watch him.  Of course in the process, she meets love in the form of an old baseball discovery, Johnny (Justin Timberlake) of his father’s.

The script loves baseball.  The script is filled with baseball trivia that the two lovers throw at each other.  But for me, a nonbaseball fan that generally hates baseball fans, I was on over by the script and the ease at which the film wins non-fans over.  But there is no climatic game in this movie for cheering and such.  The film is more family drama.  Eastwood and Adams make a good matching pair arguing to drive of past demons.

The film finally succeeds for the fine performances and the moving family drama despite the slight predictability.  Director Lorenz decision to play safe without a curve ball pays off in the end.  But the trouble with a non curve ball is a film that falls from being excellent instead of good.






Best Film Playing: EASY MONEY

Best Family: BRAVE


Best Foreign: EASY MONEY

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