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This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 12, 2012)

12 Oct 2012

Films from TIFF like THE THIEVES and ARGO (Most Popular (Audience) film Award runner-up at this year''s TIFF) begin their run this week.

ARGO (USA 2012) ****

Directed by Ben Affleck

Smart-ass Hollywood action suspense flick that is based on the true story of the rescue of American hostages by Canadians when the Iranians went berserk and stormed the American Embassy in Tehran after the overthrow of the Shah.

During the embassy siege, 6 Americans hid in the residence of the Canadian Ambassador till a plan was hatched for their escape.  The Americans were grateful and praised their northern Canadian neighbours for helping.  Canadian American diplomacy had never been so cordial.  And when this praise occurred on screen, the audience cheered proudly.  But not as loudly when the Americans narrowly escaped on their airplane.

Affleck directs and acts with great flair capturing the 70’s look on film 100% though the events took place in the early 80’s.  Affleck, who looks like Warren Beatty in the film (a joke is made of this as well) plays the mastermind of the rescue operation.  He comes up with the best of the bad ideas, as the script says.

Affleck plays his film safe with lots of suspense and action interlaced with humour.  A fake film crew from Canada is supposed to be making a sci-fi film called ARGO and the crew which the hostages will pretend to be, will board a plane from Tehran.  A simple plan but executed with much danger.  From the film’s start, the audience is given a 3-minute history briefing of the Shah and the then current situation.  A lot of ranting and shouting is shown with the angry Iranians (though all the screaming is in Farsi) burning the American flag, hanging traitors and storming the Embassy gate.  The humour comes mostly from inside jokes about Hollywood filmmaking.  Alan Arkin and Robbie Coltrane are winning in their roles as studio big shots.

The running joke of why the fake film is called ARGO is the film’s best joke.  Other jokes involve politics though no judgment is made on the Shad’s regime or the new Khomeini government.

With a thoroughly convincing period look, edge of the seat excitement and countless laugh-out loud humour, ARGO is the best and most satisfying action flick this year blowing The Avengers, The Dark Knight and Spiderman away.

THE IMPOSTER (UK 2011)***

Directed by Bart Layton

THE IMPOSTER is a documentary centered on a young Frenchman who convinces a grieving Texas family that he is their 16-year-old son, Nicholas who went missing for 3 years.

It is clear from the film’s start that Frederic Bourdin is an imposter, as he speaks directly to the camera how he got himself into the situation from the very start.  Director Layton shoots the first part of his film as a mystery thriller, with as little light as possible and with the characters (especially Bourdin) almost always in the shadows.

This film could have been made as a fiction style non documentary film.  But as this is done as a documentary, the film is even more chilling for the main reason that the audience knows that what transpires on screen is true, re-enactment or not.

Director Layton uses this point to his full advantage, even taking his audience for a ride with a revelation towards the end (not to be revealed in the review) that is not true.  But Layton lays out a few major twists in the story – so unexpected that the film turns out to be rather disturbing in the way human beings can act and behave without conscience.

As the truth is finally revealed to the Barclay family, most of the family especially the mother is ridiculed.  But at least Nicholas’ sister admits that she had been f**king stupid to accept a total stranger as a member of her family in the first place.

THE IMPOSTER is a totally absorbing mystery thriller documentary (one of the first of its kind) that is as entertaining as it is disturbing!

SINISTER (USA 2012) ***

Directed by Scott Derrickson

SINISTER is a very appropriate title for this movie as every character has a sinister side to him/her.

The protagonist is New York Bestselling crime author, Ellison (Ethan Hawke) who desperately needs a hit novel to shape his family life together.  So he moves his family into the house where a quadruple hanging took place hoping to discover some new evidence for his book.  The sheriff (Fred Dalton Thompson) does not take too kindly to his move into his town but one deputy, calling himself Deputy so-and-so (James Ransone) admires him and aids in his solving of the strange killings.

Derrickson’s film is longer than necessary and lasts almost 2 hours.  Nothing much really happens in the time that passes, but Derrickson take an ample lot of time creating a scary and spooky atmosphere.  To his credit, he has fashioned quite a creepy little film complete with false alarms and real scary pieces.

The film contains more drama than most horror films.  The confrontation between him and Tracy when she finds out about the house is quite the scene.  Fortunately, Derrickson plays the segment for a bit of comedy.

It is not difficult to see the reason Hawke was drawn to the film.  Hawke get a chance to show his acting abilities in playing an author’s decent into madness.
Credit is to be given to Derrickson for his success at creating compelling scenes both scary (as in the grainy hanging segment at the film’s start) and dramatic (father and daughter and father and sheriff, also at the film’s start).

Once the mystery is revealed at the end of the film by courtesy of Deputy so-and-so, the film descends into predictability.  Fortunately, he film has only 5 minutes left to go and director Derrickson has managed to hold the audience’s attention for a sufficient amount of time.

STORIES WE TELL (Canada 2012) ***
Directed by Sarah Polley


STORIES WE TELL is writer/director Sarah Polley’s third and most ambitious feature that blurs the line between fiction and documentary.

The newspapers reported a while back that Sarah Polley had recently discovered that the man that brought her up with her mother is not her true biological father.  STORIES WE TELL attempts to tell the story of her family, but as constructed from the stories told from the different family members through interviews.  Those interviewed (the storytellers) include the biological father Harry, the other father, Michael (who is he most vocal and thus understandably given the most screen time) and Sarah’s other siblings.  The mother is seen mostly through archive footage and shown to be the independent vivacious and misunderstood woman that films written and directed by females love to have as their main protagonists.

At one point in the film, it is suggested that people might be bored with the story of this family.  Polley’s film proves this statement only too true though not for lack of trying. It is a boring too personal a family tale, one that is common with not that much excitement, no matter how the story is told.

It should be noted that the interviewees in the film are not the real family members, but actors re-enacting parts.  This is only apparent when the end credits roll.  This fact gives Polley more artistic credit.  One wonders then how much of what transpires on screen is really true or just concocted in the artist’s mind.

But it is at times when Polley gets too smart for the film’s own good.  Parts like when sibling John turns the tables and questions the interviewer what the doc is about or when she includes a senseless montage of her father, fully clothed descending into the water of a swimming pool.  Whatever feeling of honesty is immediately lost.

In the hands of a more experienced filmmaker maybe Jacques Rivette or Ingmar Bergman, this great idea might turn into a film of great profundity and insight that examines the human soul. Though STORIES WE TELL is occasionally funny and dramatic, Polley’s film is a mismatch of smugness and originality.  But one has to give her credit for trying.

THE THIEVES (South Korea 2012) ***1/2

Directed by Choi Dong-hoon

(The review contains a spoiler alert typed in italics)

South Korea has in the past decade rivalled Hong Kong as Southeast Asia’s production of high octane action films, but this phenomenon has not been really experienced in North America.  THE THIEVES is one of the first of South Korean films of this sort that premiered at this year’s TIFF to reach our shores.

And what an octane ride!

The film also rivals the best of Hollywood caper (OCEANS ELEVEN) flicks.  Mixed with action with plot twists and slick execution, THE THIEVES must be seen to be believed.  Though a bit overlong with a convoluted plot of too many double crosses, directed Choi’s film contains enough highs for these flaws to be overlooked.

The heat is on for Popie (Lee Jung-jae) and his team after they pull off their latest heist which takes the start of the film, just as done in the opening of a Bond film.  It is time to leave South Korea until things cool down. Ever the opportunist, Popie has lined up a lucrative job for his associates in Macau, but there’s a catch: they have to join forces with Macao Park (Kim Yun-seok), the former partner who double-crossed Popie years before.  The target is a $20 million diamond that Park has connections to sell it off to.   Popie assembles his gang of usual suspects: a "wire team" consisting of the sexy and hilariously self-absorbed Yenicall (Jeon Ji-hyun) and her hopelessly infatuated partner Zampano (Kim Soo-hyun); the older hard drinking con artist Chewingum (Kim Hae-sook); and lock-picking expert (and Macao’s former flame) Pepsee (Kim Hye-soo). Macao meanwhile brings his own motley crew into the mix: the crude and volatile Andrew (Oh Dal-soo), seasoned pro Chen (Simon Yam), safe-cracker Julie (Lee Sinje), and point man Jonny (Derek Tsang).

Though the elaborate plan requires each member of the team to play a crucial role, the film contains too many characters.  It is easy to confuse one character from another (like the safecracker and the lock expert) unless one is familiar with the stars.  Each actor is given sufficient screen time and they do strut their stuff making a lasting impression, though this results in the overlong film.

The action segments are the best that can be seen.  The wire hanging scenes rival Tom Cruise’s in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE GHOSTS PROTOCOL.  Other memorable segments include action scenes include an escape by car in a car park and busy street, escape from a trapped car underwater and suspense set-ups such as the beginning robbery.  The script also contains lots of smart talk and excellent one-liners.

(Spoiler Alert!)  But as good as all the actors are, the best scenes are stolen by veteran actors Kim and Yam who play Chewinggum and Chen who fall in love during the caper.  Making a run in a stolen car from the cops, Chewinggum finally finds love and is happy but when discovers then that Chen had been shot says: “I have closed the wrong dream.”  As the car swerves to a crash in slow motion like a well orchestrated opera, this is when Choi’s  film soars.

The film is shot in 4 languages, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Japanese.  As the Koreans meet the Chinese, they insult each other face to face, speaking their own language.  Those unfamiliar to the sound of the languages can only guess the fact.  The translation into English of words to ‘godammit’ instead of ‘cunt’ also takes away the effect of certain scenes. 

But ace action director Choi keeps his propulsive caper going full-throttle right until the very end.  The film is currently the highest grossing movie in Korean film history.

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Besr Film Opening: Argo

Best Film Playing: Easy Money

Best Action: Premium Rush
Best Drama: Laurence Anyways
Best Foreign: Easy Money (Sweden)

Best Comedy: Paranorman
Best Family: Frankenweenie
Best Documentary: Beauty is Embarrassing

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