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This Week's Film Reviews (Nov 21/23, 2012)

23 Nov 2012

Early openings this Week (Wednesday) for a majority of films because of American Thanksgiving -  LIFE OF PI, RISE OF THE GUARDIANS, RED DAWN and SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK.  No review of RED DAWN because of screenings clash.

Also at TIFF Bell Lightbox are the films of Nicolas Pereda.


HITCHCOCK (USA 2012) ****

Directed by Sasha Gervasi

When the film opens, the figure of Anthony Hopkins who plays Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense appears. When Hopkins begins to speak doing Hitchcock, the audience at the screening I attended began sniggering, as it is a little humorous to watch any impression of the Master.  But as Hopkins continues, the audience grew silent as they realised how good Hopkins actually is and how much thought the script pays serious homage to Hitchcock.

Based on the book ‘Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho’ by Stephen Rebello who also polished the script, the story centres on the relationship between the director and his wife, Alma (Helen Mirren).  Though the romance might seem the least interesting  compared to the other aspects of the story such as the making of Psycho, the distractions of the opposite sex for both husband and wife and the financial success of Psycho, it is really the romance that sets the foundation of the film.  And it is this romance that makes the picture that good.

Besides the solid script and crisp dialogue, the film works primarily for its two lead actors.  Hopkins does more than a marvellous job, with both voice and mannerisms.  Oscar winner Mirren is just as good, if not better, showing her prowess in the best scene where she tells him off after he accuses her of adultery.   Credit also goes to James D’Arcy who looks and acts so much like Anthony Perkins, it is hard to tell the difference.

But the darker side of the story in which Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), the serial killer whose life Norman Bates form PSYCHO is based on, appears to torment Hitchcock undermines the man’s genius.  The segment of the film in which the audience is shown literally screaming at the premiere of PSYCHO is superfluous.  Director Gervasi’s cheap theatrics are not necessary.

There is nothing really new about Hitchcock depicted in this film that cineastes do not really know about, except maybe how much trouble Hitchcock went through to make PSYCHO.   His relationship with his wife, his treatment of his leading ladies, the fights with the studio, his practical jokes and temper are all present in the film.  But it is good to see everything put together as a cohesive whole.  The film touts PSYCHO as his best and most successful film though many would disagree.

So sceptics disbelieving that the Master’s life should not be tempered with can be rest assured.  HITCHCOCK is an entertaining biography that serves the Master’s life and work justice.  Perhaps the film can even win an Oscar, the recognition that evaded filmdom’s best director of all time.

INCH’ALLAH (Canada/France 2012) **

Directed by Anais Barbeau-Lavalette

INCH’ALLAH is intriguing as the film was produced by the same team behind the Academy Award®–nominated INCENDIES and MONSIEUR LAZHAR, two of Canada’s critically acclaimed films.

This racially charged drama explores the impact and ramifications of Israel’s separation barrier on the divided populations of the West Bank.  Pointedly, the film does so through the perspective of an outsider: Chloé (Evelyne Brochu), a Quebec doctor just as the director is an outsider herself.  The doctor works in a women’s health clinic on the Palestinian side of the barrier but resides in an apartment on the Israeli side.  Though Chloé has adjusted to the daily grind of passing through the heavily guarded checkpoints to get to and from work, she is also constantly aware of the simmering violence that surrounds her.

As the film goes, Chloé’s perception of the bizarre, bisected world in which she finds herself is further shaded by the friendships she makes on either side of the barrier. Ava (Sivan Levy), a neighbour in Chloé’s apartment building who is serving her mandatory military service as a checkpoint guard, becomes Chloé’s frequent drinking companion, the two women routinely going out for nights on the town.   These segments remind the audience of the presence of a female director.  On the other side, Chloé becomes close to one of her patients, Rand (Sabrina Ouazani), a young pregnant woman who lives in poverty, picking through garbage in search of reusable items. Rand’s family, especially her older brother Faysal (Yousef Sweid), is thoroughly committed to the cause of Palestinian liberation, and willing to take whatever measures are necessary.

INCH’ALLAH is watchable and director Lavalette’s film comes off as dramatic and charged enough.  But the problem is that the theme of Palestinian/Israeli conflict is a well worn one.  In fact most films from Palestine deals with this tired topic.  And the film also falls into the trap of having a satisfactory ending for the soul reason that this kind of conflict is still present this very day.

LIFE OF PI (USA 2012) ****
Directed by Ang Lee

Ang Lee returns back to familiar territory of the mystic and controlled discipline, in this case Indian, after the disastrous deviation into hippie culture of TAKING WOODSTOCK.

Though the film’s poster offers the illusion that the film is a fairy tale Arabian Nights (such as SINBAD or the Rudyard Kipling stories), THE LIFE OF PI is more of an adult fantasy and one thankfully, without gore and violence.  The message in the film are lessons in life and the adventures are both mystic and at other times very scary, especially in the scenes involving the Bengali tiger.

The film begins with the adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) being interviewed.  Pi recounts his childhood days in French India with the zoo his father opened.  When finance runs out, as Pi recalls, the family takes for Canada in a boat that gets shipwrecked.  Pi survives with a Bengali tiger in the lifeboat.

The animal segments are well shot though these might be a bit violent for children.  But LIFE OF PI is not really a children’s film.  But the CGI effects are a bit overdone, especially the one involving the thousands and thousands (no kidding here) of meerkats on an island that Pi and his company come across.

But the fantasy island is the best part of the story.  Lee should not have gone overboard with the looks but let the mystic play on its own strength.  The island which feeds Pi is in reality carnivorous and consumes its inhabitants at night.

The film works on two accounts.  The film is based on the book which has a great story.  And Ang Lee has been proved to be a Master storyteller.  One cannot go wrong with both a great story told by a great story teller.  Lee gives this $100 million production all that it is worth!

But one thing unexplained is the whereabouts of the tiger when the hyena attacks the wounded zebra on the lifeboat.  The tiger suddenly appears in the lifeboat out of nowhere after the hyena had done its harm.

The film makes one major deviation from the book.  In the book, it is the Japanese officials who are asked which of the two stories told by the adult Pi is preferred.  There is no interviewer in the book.  In the film, it is Pi’s interviewer (Rafe Spall) that is asked the question.  In the film the character playing the interviewer has the identical name of the author of the novel.  Which would the audience prefer?

PING PONG (UK 2012) ***

Directed by Hugh Hartford

This film is more about old age pensioners than ping pong.  The connection is the over 80’s table tennis (ping pong) championships in Inner Mongolia.

Hartford’s film is divided into 2 parts.  The first deals with the individuals.  These are the pensioners from across the planet compete in the said above Championships.

From retirement, care homes, mental and physical health to death and loneliness; 8 players from 4 continents, with 703 years between them; guide the film through the extraordinary world of Veteran sports. The film interweaves the competition with intimate and candid portraits that explore the hope, passion, prejudice, and immediacy of growing old.  The second part of the film is the Championships.  Now these 8 compete among themselves for the gold.  As their saying goes – ‘Never too old for gold!”

Among the 8 are Terry (81) having been given a week to live, gets in sight of winning gold.  Inge (89) has used table tennis to train her way out of the dementia ward she committed herself to.  Australian legend Dorothy deLow is 100, and finds herself a mega celebrity in this rarefied world and Texan Lisa Modlich, a new-comer at 85 years old, is determined to do whatever it takes to win her first gold.

What’s really comical are a few of the comments made by the competitors.  Lisa says of her German opponent: “Of course I beat her.  She can hardly move!”  Dorothy is in a wheelchair, just a content with all the attention than playing the game.  But there are wise saying too, such as: “It is ok to lose.  There is always another day.”

PING PONG is a documentary that also teaches valuable lessons such as the importance of life; the importance of keeping fit; having a goal but most importantly, the value of living right through an old age.  This makes this documentary a rare crowd pleaser!


Directed by Peter Ramsey

RISE OF THE GUARDIANS is a massive $145 million computer animated feature Christmas family film based on “The Guardians of Childhood” book series by William Joyce.  This feature is not to be confused with last year’s owl animation film which also contains the word ‘Guardian’ in its title.

The Guardians look after the children of the world so long that they are believed in. The Guardians include Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and the Sandman.  Jack Frost (Chris Pine) is the carefree teen with no responsibilities but is now called to be a Guardian when Pitch Black, the Nightmare King (Jude Law) and villain of the piece plans to engulf the world with darkness once the children stop believing.  Dakota Goy voices the boy, the last one in the world who still believes in the Guardians.

RISE OF THE GUARDIANS has the perfect combination of manic mayhem and pacing.  Compared with last year’s Christmas animated feature ARTHUR CHRISTMAS, there was just too much going on in terms of side action, craziness and tomfoolery that it was too much to swallow for both adults and children.  RISE at least provides some breathers, so that one does not come out of the theatre too frazzled.  The fact that a few of the guardian characters like The Sandman and the Easter Bunny have few known behavioural characteristics, the filmmakers can add more inventiveness without breaking the rules.  The Sandman therefore is displayed largely as a silent round good-natured yellow creature with lots of magical golden dust to go around.

There are no romance or cutesy embarrassing songs in this one, though one can see the temptation for the script to include a romantic angle between Tooth Fairy and Jack Frost.

The music is by French composer Alexandre Desplat and scored by the London Symphony Orchestra.  Guillermo Del Toro, known for this kind of fantasy features executively produced the film.  This is the last combinational effort between Paramount and Dreamworks, and hopefully it will; be a good successful departure.


Directed by David O. Russell

Writer/director David O. Russell of SPANKING THE MONKEY, FLIRTING WITH DISASTER and of course THE FIGHTER returns to familiar territory of a guy trying to make good within his dysfunctional family.  This film which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and won the People’s Choice Award for Best film is based on the semi comic novel of the same name by Mathew Quick.

The poor soul and lead character is Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper in his best role so far) has lost everything -- his house, his job, and his wife. He now finds himself living back with his mother (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert De Niro, also in his best role recently) after spending eight months in a state institution on a plea bargain.  Pat is determined to rebuild his life, remain positive and reunite with his wife, despite the challenging circumstances of their separation.  All Pat''s parents want is for him to get back on his feet and to share their family''s obsession with the local football team.

But Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious young woman with problems of her own jogs into Pat’s and things get complicated.  Tiffany offers to help Pat reconnect with his wife, but only if he''ll do something very important for her in return.  He is to be her partner in a dance contest.

The script includes many timely situations which audiences can relate to.  ‘Things happen for a reason”, and ‘Think positive’ are two phrases that are current phrases heard all the time these days.  SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is essentially a romantic comedy in disguise.  But Pat is s character so worked up, so crazy ant times that he should be locked up for all the things he does.  So, the distraction works.  The dance competition at the film’s climax is also extremely well executed while the two perform memorably and credibly at the same time.

But what makes this film work are the performances of all the stars.  Cooper and De Niro deliver Oscar winning performances, so rare for a comedy.  And as Tiffany, the girl who so yearns for love, one cannot help for feel for her.

Russell has directed a winning feel good movie from start to finish – hilarious with many, many laugh out loud moments, and with touching moments that will bring on the tears as well.  This reviewer does not like the romantic comedy genre at all, but SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is indeed a real winner.  Who but the most hard hearted can dislike a film about an good intentioned idiosyncratic romantic who wins out at the end?


Best Film Opening: Silver Linings Playbook

Best Film Playing: Silver Linings Playbook

Best Action: Skyfall

Best Family: Rise of the Guardians

Best Adventure: Life of Pi

Best Foreign: Holy Motors

Best Drama: Hitchcock

Best Documentary: The Imposter

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