• This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 28, 2015)

    Big Films opening this week are WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS and NO ESCAPE.

    TIFF Cinematheque presents a retrospective of Ingrid Bergman films.

    FILM REVIEWS: 

    COURT (India 2014) ***1/2

    Directed by Chaitanya Tamhane

    A sewerage worker's dead body is found inside a manhole in Mumbai.  An ageing folk singer is tried in court on charges of abetment of suicide.  He is accused of performing an inflammatory song which might have incited the worker to commit the act.  As the trial unfolds, the personal lives of the lawyers and the judge involved in the case are observed outside the court.

    Hollywood has fascinated audiences with high profile courtroom dramas like JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG and A FEW GOOD MEN, but a different kind of courtroom drama arrives with tons of accolades from Mumbai.  The film depicts the lives of the poor in Mumbai.  The story is as dramatic in the courtroom as out of it as the camera weaves in and out of the Mumbai slums and the stories of the lawyers and judge.

    The film first premiered at the 71st Venice International Film Festival where it won the Best Film in the Horizons category and the Luigi De Laurentiis (Lion Of The Future) award for Tamhane.  The film went on to win 18 other awards at film festivals, including honours at the Mumbai, Vienna, Antalya, and Singapore film festivals.   Though not without flaws, COURT should intrigue both critics and non-critics alike.

    The film follows several Mumbai residents.  The first is the old teacher and aging folk singer performer (Vira Sathidar), aforementioned, who has had trouble with the law in the past.  Then the film follows the lives of they two lawyers and finally the judge.

    The Mumbai judicial system is displayed with all its flaws and problems.  Documents are misplaced, witnesses can be bought and the lawyers like the prosecutor have higher ambitions like being promoted to the position of a judge.  Meanwhile, the accused is in jail, without bail and deteriorating in health in the process.

    The final verdict will not be revealed in the review, but it is safe to say that the drama is sustained from start to finish.  The interweaving of the personal lives of the subjects will in no way affect the result of the case, but it is interesting to see how judges and lawyers behave outside the court.  For example, the judge is shown as an impatient man screaming at kids.

    Tamhane’s Mumbai is on display here.  And it is not a pretty sight.  The slums, dirty streets, overcrowded roads, dust and dirty conditions complement the unhappy characters in the film.  Even the seaside resort looks disgusting.  but is is this Mumbai that gives the film its character and intrigue.  And director Tamhane is unafraid to show it as it is.

    COURT ends up an original work from a first time feature director, and one whose future work should be something to look forward to.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sc8z7zav9A

    THE END OF THE TOUR (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by James Ponsoldt

     

    Though based on real life events, the words ‘based on a true story’, ‘inspired by true events’ or any such statements are not flashed on the screen.  One would assume that this film’s audience would have knowledge of the literary book world and be aware of the 2008 suicide of well-known author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) after his acclaimed work ‘Infinite Jest’.  that novel was cited by Time magazine as one of the best 100 novels of the century.

    The film begins with the news of Wallace’s suicide, as heard by David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg).  The film flashes back to Lipsky, a reporter at Rolling Stone and an author himself, reading the novel ‘Infinite Jest’ with his girlfriend and being so impressed, that he convinces his boss at Rolling Stone that he would do a fantastic interview story of Wallace.  At this point in the film, the audience can expect two authors to go loggerheads at each other.  And the script by playwright Donald Margulies takes this route.  The gist of the film which occurs during the last third concentrates on the deteriorating relationship between the two, when among other things, familiarity breeds contempt, besides pride and duelling literary words.

    It is a solid 5-day interview.  Lipsky travels to Wallace’s home and begins an interviewer/interviewee relationship.  Both are at first weary of each other.  It is only when the two begin to get at ease that the trouble starts.  The catalyst of their deteriorating relationship is Wallace’s accusation of Lipsy’s hitting on his girlfriend.  Lipsky also gets under Wallace’s skin by probing into his possible heroin use and past depression.  This is where the film gets quite intense with the two debating furiously and hitting at each other emotionally.  Wallace has made Lispky promise that certain things never be published ruing the interview, and this might be the reason the interview was never published in real life.

    Both Eisenberg and Segel deliver nuanced and credible performances.  Segel, with his stubble and bandana looks just like the real Wallace.  This is a different Segel without the comedy audiences are used to.

    But this is basically a two-handler film about two writers.  The female roles by Meryl stress’s daughter, Mamie Gummer and Joan Cusack have little impact.

    But despite the film’s intensity, one wonders who would really one to watch a film about two men sparring with each other with no winner.  The film has already done disappointing box-office (its per screen average last week was lower than the also disappointing THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.) in its limited release.  But THE END OF THE TOUR is not a bad film, well-written and performed and should be given  chance.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBk1Mrb4RyM

     

    NO ESCAPE (USA 2015) *

    Directed by John Erick Dowdle

    It was in 2009 that it was reported that Owen Wilson was to start in an action film called THE COUP with the theme similar to TAKEN about a husband saving his family at all costs.

    The setting, however is an unnamed South-East Asian country where true enough, a coup is underway.   Jack Dwyer (Wilson) has been sent with his family to re-locate as he had just landed a job as an engineer dealing with some water company.  The film opens with the family on the plane.  When hell breaks lose in the Asian country, his family is the target as the locals believe the foreigners are out to steal their water.  So amidst bullets and explosions, Dwyer has to take his family to safety.  In the film, this means crossing the border to Vietnam in a boat.

    But the film is so full of flaws and loose ends that all the action set pieces serve no purpose.  But some are, to the director’s credit nail-biting suspenseful, especially the segment in which the family has to jump across from one building to another.  But most of the action sequences involve Asians jumping around during explosions and firing weapons at random.

    It can be ascertained from the end credits that the film is shot in Thailand from all the Thai names that appear.  The reason the film was shot there is the immense talent of the Thai film film crew.  But judging from the end piece where the family crosses to Vietnam by boat, the country can be assumed to be Cambodia.  Though unmentioned, the political turmoil could arise from the Khmer Rouge problems from the past.  The fact that nothing is mentioned of the story’s background, the story loses its credibility.

    An inherent problem of the film is that the hero of the piece is not a trained killer.  Jack Dwyer has never fired a weapon or killed anyone till he is forced to protect his family.  Unlike the Liam Neeson hero in TAKEN where he efficiently does away with the bad guys, all Jack can do is quiver after he kills his first victim.  Having a hysterical wife (Lake Bell) and two young daughters (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare) and annoying ones at that, does not help this action flick either.

    All the local Asians blame the Americans for all the bad that occur in their country and all of them are disposed during the action scenes in a ridiculous manner.  The Dwyer family is aided in their escape by a stranger, Hammond (Pierce Brosnan) who turns out to be a James Bond like British agent.  The Hammond character is strange, appears out of nowhere at various points in the film and is never fully explained.

    With all the action films released weekly, this silly effort, shot in Thailand with lots of locals and explosions turns out to be a total waste.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOjj07EuO50

    QUEL HORAS ELA VOLTA? (SECOND MOTHER) (Brazil 2015) ***/12

    Directed by Anna Muylaert

    The SECOND MOTHER of the film title is Val (Regina Casé), the maid of a wealthy Sao Paolo family.  Maids have been interesting subjects of films lately, the most memorable being the recent film called THE MAID, the Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film from Chile.

    This Brazilian entry that could also be titled THE MAID, tells of maid Val, 13 years working as nanny to Fabinho (Camila Márdila) in Sao Paulo. She is financially stable but has to live with the guilt of having left her daughter Jessica (Karine Teles), in Pernambuco, in the north of Brazil, raised by relatives. As college entrance exams roll around, Jessica wants to come to Sao Paulo to take her college entrance exams too. When Jessica arrives, cohabitation is not easy. Everyone will be affected by the personality and candor of the girl while Val finds herself right in the middle of it.

    The story contrasts three strong females characters.  Each of them are used to their own way of life and stubbornly so.  Val is so comfortable as a second class citizen, she is more concerned about the status quo being disturbed rather than her rights.  Her daughter, on the other hand, is an independent youth unwilling to see herself or her mother disrespected.  The mistress Dona Barbara (Lourenço Mutarelli) is rich and spoiled and used to be getting her own way.  When the three come into conflict, they each, hilariously find their own solution which largely means segregation from the other two.

    Muylaert’s film moves at a snail’s pace but it allows her audience to make keen observations on both her characters and situations.  She never judges her characters but allows the audience to make up their own minds, as to who is correct or wrong.  What is marvellous is that often in an argument on screen, both parties are right.  But the audience is still forced to take a side, depending on ones beliefs and attitudes.  For example when mother and daughter argue about their separation, one could side with the mother for not being able to be with her daughter but also on the daughter’s side for not trying hard enough.

    The film covers important social issues - the main one being the co-habitation of different classes.  Both Val, the maid and her employer, Barbara who she calls Dona Barbara are living in perfect harmony provided their unwritten rules are kept.  Other issues covered are the absent mother and daughter presence during growing up which again are in harmony till the can of worms are opened.  Sexual desires develop between Jessica and both the elderly Dr. Carlos (Luis Miranda) and the mistress’s son.  These form the film’s most uncomfortable segments.  Muylaert’s solution is to have Val leave the residence and the boy sent to Australia.  Another minor but no less interesting issue is the family’s dealing with drug use.

    The film also contains a few great moments of exhilaration.  The one scene in which Val finally gets the guts to enter her mistress’s pool is funny as she wades in the pool that has been drained and only contains a foot deep of water.

    The film moves believably to a stable compromise in which each party is more comfortable than the present.  Each is happier, the film has a happy ending, and the audience is happier, too.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXEYqXE4_sg

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: SECOND MOTHER

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documentary: AMY

    Best Action comedy: AMERICAN ULTRA

    Best Foreign: SECOND MOTHER

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 21, 2015)

    Big Films opening this week (about about efficient human killing machines) are AMERICAN ULTRA and HITMAN:AGENT 47.  

     

    FILM REVIEWS: 

    AMERICAN ULTRA (USA 2015) ***1/2
    Directed by Nima Nourizadeh

     

    There is one scene in a car where the couple Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) and Phoebe Carson (Kristen Stewart) are arguing in a car.  Mike: “Get out of my car!”  “This is my car!” shouts back Phoebe.  “Then get out of THE car.” comes the reply.  The next instant, a another vehicle bulldozes the car down a bridge.  

    Such manic action is expected from the director Nima Nourizadeh who helmed the even more manic PROJECT X about a house party gone to totally out of control and the more disciplined scriptwriter, Max Landis (John Landis’ son) of the excellent youth acton hero flick CHRONICLE.  And both deliver in the form of silly but manic entertainment but more geared towards a younger audience.

    The premise of the film is simple enough that any stoner can understand while under the influence.  Mike is a pot smoker living his small town life with his perfect girlfriend, Phoebe.  Mike is activated as a highly efficiently trained killer by Victoria Lasseter (Connie Briton) to save him.  Mike is thrust into the middle of a deadly government operation and is forced to summon his inner action-hero in order to survive.  

    Eisenberg and Stewart develop good romantic chemistry on screen.

    The villain of the piece, elegantly played by Topher Grace is a cowardly pencil pusher who hides behind his soldiers when shot at.  He is complemented by another CIA operative played by Connie Briton who goes against him.  In one brilliant scene, both are brought face to face with their boss (Bill Pullman) both quivering for their lives in the woods.  John Leguizamo has a small role as Mike’s drug dealer, reprising a similar role he did in the drug movie SPUN.

    The comedy and action are as fast and furious as in Nourizadeh’s PROJECT X.  Beware of the ultra violence, foul language and drug smoking scenes.  For the not too demanding viewer, AMERICAN ULTRA has plenty to please.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLGFwkRx2HA

     

    CHARLIE’S COUNTRY (Australia 2013) ***

    Directed by Rolf de Heer

    Though North Americans might avoid this social drama because it is based on a people far away down south - the native Aborigines from down-under, the story could easily apply to the native Indians of North America.  The whites have stolen native land have imposed rules on the natives who have not only lost their land but their rights.  

    Charlie (David Gulpilil from WALKABOUT) is an ageing Aborigine.  He is of poor health but that is the least of his worries.  Charlie lives in in Arnhem Land, paints tree barks and fishes barramundi fish, all the while feeling out of place in an Australia which is no longer his.  After his spear is confiscated by the police who think it is a weapon, he decides to leave his Aboriginal community and go to the bush.  He dreams of being in what he calls his mother’s country.  He enjoys it for a short spell but eventually falls ill and is rushed to the hospital in Darwin.  Shortly after, he befriends a woman who buys alcohol illegally for other Aboriginals, and he gets arrested after smashing the windscreen of a cop car.  As a result, he is sent to prison.  Director de Heer spends quite a bit of screen time showing Charlie in prison.  These segments really work they way into the audience feeling sorry for the man.

    CHARLIE’S COUNTRY is partly written (he co-wrote it with Heer) by actor Gulpilil, who puts his heart and soul into the film.  He won the Best Actor Award at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section. The film has the added authenticity by being shot in the Aborigine language which resulted in the film also submitted to the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film.

    The serious film is not without humour.  “White bastard”, Charlie scolds a cop who remarks back: “Black bastard!”  But the important message still come across.

    CHARLIE’S COUNTRY turns out to be an important film about human rights.  The other issues like health and old age also comes into play.  It is a sad film but the truth is not always pleasant.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpcfNQ6tiiE

    HITMAN: AGENT 47 (USA/Germany 2015) *

    Directed by Aleksander Bach

    From the trailer, 20th Century Fox ’s HITMAN: AGENT 47 looks as stylist and action packed like their recently released and box-office successful KINGSMEN: THE SECRET SERVICE.  ‘Looks’ is as far as it goes.  Unlike KINGSMEN, HITMAN, based on at the video game is a complete bore and inherently put together.  It lacks thrills, a good story and good action set pieces.  The only novelty is that the film was shot in Singapore - very few films are.  Singapore looks more modern than any other metropolitan city, with its sleek skyscrapers and stunning architecture.

    HITMAN: AGENT 47 is remarkably similar to two other films released at this same time.  Human beings engineered to be super-efficient killers in a government secret program that is to be discontinued.  This line can apply to both HITMAN as well as the other film AMERICAN ULTRA which also share the same opening date.  Then next week, another super slick thriller with another efficient smart looking killing machine opens - THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED.  

    So, this film centers on an elite assassin, Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) who was genetically engineered from conception to be the perfect killing machine, and is known only by the last two digits on the barcode tattooed on the back of his neck.  He is the culmination of decades of research - and forty-six earlier Agent clones -- endowing him with unprecedented strength, speed, stamina and intelligence.  His latest target is to stop a mega-corporation led by Le Clerq (Thomas Kretschmann), headquarters in Singapore, that plans to unlock the secret of Agent 47's past to create an army of killers whose powers surpass even his own.  Teaming up with a young woman, Katia (Hannah Ware) who may hold the secret to overcoming their powerful and clandestine enemies, 47 confronts stunning revelations about his own origins and squares off in an epic battle with his deadliest foe, John Smith (Zachary Quinto).

    For such a simple plot, the story is difficult to follow at the start as the plot points are delivered sloppily.  The script, credited with 3 writers contains too much moralizing.  Lines like “I am what I need to be..”, “We become what we are by what we do..” sound like something out of a children’s book.

    The action scenes contain too many cuts, thus lacking continuity  They look stylish but lack any suspense or thrills.  The action sequences are badly staged.  The street scenes in Singapore where the action takes place contains lots of traffic that clearly do not move at all.

    Agent 47 is supposed to be a robot like human being and so does John Smith.  With these two as main characters, the acting look very wooden.  Veteran actor Ciaran Hinds plays Katia’s father, who is supposed to hold the secret Le Clerq is seeking after.  This is Hinds’ worst performance ever - Hinds, literally wheezing all his lines, because he is supposed to be suffering from lung cancer, Stage 3.

    HITMAN: AGENT 47 could not even be enjoyed as mindless action.  It ends up a total bore and waste of time from start to finish.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alQlJDRnQkE

    MISTRESS AMERICA (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Noah Baumbach

    If you enjoyed FRANCES HA, MISTRESS AMERICA would certainly be your film dream come true.  MISTRESS AMERICA has everything that FRANCES HA has and much more and served in more intensified doses.  It has quirky writing, nuanced characters and odd situations.  The female view is also very strong, surprising as it is co-written and directed by a male., Noah Baunmbach (THE SQUID AND THE WHALE being his best film).  But Greta Gerwig must have been a strong influence.

    But Gerwig plays the secondary character.   The lead is Tracy (Lola Kirke), a lonely college freshman in New York, having neither the exciting university experience nor the glamorous metropolitan lifestyle she envisioned.  But when she is taken in by her soon-to-be stepsister, Brooke (Greta Gerwig) - a resident of Times Square and adventurous girl about town - she is rescued from her disappointment and seduced by Brooke's alluringly mad schemes.  It is like FRANCES HA meeting her match.

    The story’s premise involves Tracy helping Brooke secure money for her payment she is short of in opening a new restaurant.  The journey takes them to visit Brooke’s ex-friend, Mimi Claire (Heather Lind), now married to a millionaire, Dylan (Michael Chernus) she used to date.  The film is given Tracy’s perspective of life, from her voiceover.

    The film plays like a female Woody Allen film without the Jewish slant.  So, if one enjoys a Woody Allen film, there is plenty of similarities in MISTRESS AMERICA.  For one, the setting is New York.  Favourite Allen issues include therapy, adultery and talk about sex.  The characters are occasionally neurotic and paranoid .  They speak intelligently as if they are all writers.  Non-literary characters do not exist in this world.

    The script by Baumbach and Gerwig contains a few neat quotable lines such as “I need someone I can love, not someone I can keep up with”.  The are also bouts of continuous funny dialogue as in the segment in which Dylan is surprised at all then people in his house when he returns home. “Where do these people come from?”, a simple line like this one evokes laugh-out loud laughter from the comedic set-up.  But the occasional brilliance also stands out - the part about Tracy’s mother and Brooke’s father calling off their marriage.  Suddenly the stepsister bond is no more with Tracy and Brooke now with no ties at all.

    But MISTRESS AMERICA tries too hard at times and appears to be all over the place.  An example is a joke on being broke by investing in taxi-periderms.  It is a joke that is funny but would fly over the head of most, but they still kept it in the film.  The film flies off the handle once too often, but once can argue that it is this tactic that gives the film that rare spirit.

    The film would appeal more towards females, especially those who read a lot or write a little.  The MISTRESS AMERICA of the film title is the name of the piece Tracy is writing for the book club.  But the film is still entertaining to all, as it is a hilarious, quirky and inventive piece of moviemaking.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z8MCW16uZY

     

    STEVE JOBS: THE MAN IN THE MACHINE (USA 2015) ***1/2

    Directed by Alex Gibney

    Four years after the death from pancreatic cancer of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, documentarist Alex Gibney offers audiences a good look at the man behind the Apple personal computer.  Though not the first film made on Jobs, there was a fictional film on him with Ashton Kutcher in the title role, this one could be considered the exhaustive account of the man.  Gibney’s film reveals both the good and evil of the genius.  Yet another Steve Jobs film is due for release, this one directed by Danny Boyle and starring Michael Fassbender.

    For a film that tells this intimate a story, director Gibney has accomplished quite the feat.  His film has the appearance of being current, as if Jobs was still alive giving interviews and talking about his work.  The archive footage on display here is impressively put together.

    The film begins appropriately with the world  mourning the loss of Steve Jobs, just after his passing four years back.  From Japan, a place Jobs frequently visited to examine his inner being to the U.S., strangers who have used Apple products place wreaths on pictures of the man.  The film then goes on to explain how Jobs got to be this well-known and respected.

    Jobs wanted to change the world at all costs.  This is where Jobs ran into trouble.

    As evident from Gibney’s best documentaries TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE and GOING CLEAR, Gibney’s talent is exposing controversy and riling up his audience’s anger at injustice.  In TAXI, the brutality and torture of suspected terrorists were on display as was Scientology in the latter film.  At the end of each film, Gibney got the audience close to begin ashamed of being an American as well as despising totally the Scientology leaders.  As for Steve Jobs, Jobs was seen as abusing his fellow colleague inventor by stealing all the credit for an invention, not paying deserved alimony for his daughter while being filthy rich an treating family and colleagues in a cruel manner.  But the worse thing Gibney shows about Jobs is his attack on an Asian reporter who picked up Jobs’ new iPhone he left behind at a bar.  Jobs went all out to get his man.   But Gibney does not go that far as to make the audience hate the man.  Instead, Gibney achieves the opposite.  Despite Jobs’ faults, the audience regards the man as one of the most influential and greatest inventors ever lived.  One segment has Jobs’ former employee Bob Belleville, an engineer behind the Mac, blaming Jobs for work demands that caused him to be estranged from his family.  But when he becomes all tears when reading a tribute to Jobs after his death, one sees the power Jobs has on his fellow man.  Also, using Jobs illness, Gibney engages the audience’s sympathy.

    Jobs humanity and his need for fulfillment are given sufficient screen time.  His visits to Japan and his quest for enlightenment are also on display. 

    But for better or for worse, Jobs indirectly put a personal computer in every home.  He made it cool to own an Apple.  He fought against the biggest company in the world - IBM and won.

    In the end, Gibney’s documentary is a worthy tribute to the man in the machine - Steve Jobs, for he has his audience teary eyed, like Bob Belleville who have seen both sides of the man and have realized that the world is a better place with rather than without him.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhWKxtsYrJE

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: AMERICAN ULTRA

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documentary: AMY

    Best Action comedy: AMERICAN ULTRA

    Best Foreign: A HARD DAY (South Korea)

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

  • TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Ingrid Bergman

     

    TIFF Cinematheque presents - Ingrid Bergman

    TIFF Cinematheque celebrates Ingrid Bergman’s 100th birthday with a slew of her best films that will be screened at the Bell Lightbox from Aug 22nd to Sept 6th.

    Bergman comes in threes.  Bergman won 3 Oscars in acting for GASLIGHT, ANASTASIA and MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.  She also starred in 3 Hitchcock film, all three of which will be screened, NOTORIOUS, SPELLBOUND and UNDER CAPRICORN.  She also made 5 films with Roberto Rossellini,the 3 most famous being STROMBOLI, EUROPA’51 and YOYAGE IN ITALY.

    For the complete program, ticket prices and dates, please check the Cinematheque website at:

    http://tiff.net/summer2015-cinematheque/notorious-celebrating-the-ingrid-bergman-centenary

    Capsule Reviews for most of the films in the program below:-

    ANASTASIA (USA 1956) ****
    Directed by Anatole Litvak

    Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for her grand performance as the Duchess Anastasia or the impostor of Anastasia.  Bergman does a lot of crying and screaming in this film.  The scheme of General Sergei Pavlovich Bounine (Yul Brynner) is to find the missing heir in order to claim a tidy sum of millions of pounds. But the trouble besides having to teach her manners, her history, her background etc. is that he falls in love with her.  Helen Hayes has the role of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, the grandmother whose reaction would convince the world whether the lady presented to her is the real Anastasia.  Litvak’s film, beautifully directed, is a grand period piece with rich and funny dialogue to match.  The Dowager has a priceless line - the funniest one I have heard this year in a film, as she tells her lady-in-waiting: “At your age, sex should be nothing more than gender.”

    THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S (USA 1945) ****
    Directed by Leo McCarey

    Directed by Leo McCarey based on his story, THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S is an old fashioned feel good movie when good triumphs over all.  The audience is led to believe that a tycoon Horace Bogardus (Henry Travers) would have a change of heart and donate his new building to the praying nuns.  The nuns are led by Sister Benedict (Ingrid Bergman) who comes to a bit of a conflict with the newly arrived Father O’Malley (Bing Crosby).  Both are of so good nature that the fights end up with each one offering to give in.  Crosby croons a few tunes and so does Bergman.  Both are excellent in their roles (both winning Oscar nominations for best performance along with Best Picture and Best Director), with their facial expressions doing a lot of the acting.  A bit over-sentimental but all this should be taken with a good heart.  This is one film that is difficult to dislike.

    CASABLANCA (USA 1942 ) ***** 

    Directed by Michael Curtiz

    CASABLANCA is arguably the best romantic film of all time and with the most quotable lines.  “Here’s looking at you kid!”, “This is the beginning of a very long friendship”, are lines no cineaste can ever forget.  Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman play war-torn lovers forced to finally make an important decision at the climax.  Set in World War II Casablanca, Bogart plays Rick who owns he bar ‘Cafe Americain’, which everybody goes.  All goes well till Ilsa, Rick’s ex-lover shows up with her Czech husband (Paul Henreid) asking for escape papers.  Beautifully acted, stunningly shot and directed with great period atmosphere aided by songs sung by Sam including the hit “As Time Goes By”, CASABLANCA is a classic to be seen time and again.  Curtiz deservedly won the Oscar for best Director for this film.

    GASLIGHT (USA 1944) ****
    Directed by George Cukor

    Two great performances here.  Ingrid Bergman won her first Oscar as the new wife, Paula whose husband, a mysterious pianist played with evil relish Charles Boyer who intends to drive his wife inane and have her committed.  His aim is to steal the jewels of her aunt, whom h had murdered before.  The little games that he plays pretending that she is forgetful, losing things that he has tucked away and tormenting her are enough to drive anyone insane.  Cukor’s camera captures all of Boyer’s classic gestures of nasty mischief.  The huge mansion in which the couple live in aids in the story’s creepiness as does the London fog that is always outside at the late hours of night.  Good supporting cast too from Joseph Cotten (if one can dismiss his American accent) as a Scotland Yard detective who saves her, Dame Edith Witty as a nosy neighbour and Angela Lansbury as a Cockney maid.

    MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (UK 1974) ****
    Directed by Sidney Lumet

    The most lavish and also one of the best of the Agatha Christie adaptations on the big screen sees an all-star cast with the excellent Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective.  Ingrid Bergman plays a missionary, speaking English with her native Swedish accent, winning her 3rd Oscar for best Supporting Actress.  But Bergman is not the only actress delivering a stellar performance.  Wendy Hiller, Rachel Roberts, Lauren Bacall are just a few that offer the film’s delights.  While abroad the Orient Express, an American tycoon (Richard Widmark) is murdered.  Under the request of the train manager, Bianchi (Martin Balsam), Detective Poirot solves the murder.  Director Lumet keeps the interest sustained with a very slick and polished mystery/thriller that has its humorous elements in the script by Paul Dehn as well.  The revelation of the murderer or murderers takes almost a full half hour to reveal but it is not the murder but the interaction of all the high society characters portrayed by the top-notch actors that give audiences their ultimate pleasure.

    NOTORIOUS (USA 1946) ****

    Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

    One of the most suspenseful of Hitchcock’s spy films (TORN CURTAIN, TOPAZ), Ingrid Bergman plays the romantic lead and also the damsel in distress.  Alicia Huberman, (Bergman) a German expatriate whose father has just been convicted as a German spy is hired by the Americans.  Devlin (Cary Grant) brings Alicia to Brazil in hopes to arrange a meeting with Alex Sebastian (the fantastic Claude Rains); another German spy who just happens to have a history with Alicia insofar that he was in love with her.  The plan is to get them together so that she can spy on Sebastian and his colleagues so that the Americans can get a leg up on their mutual espionage.  Of course, love develops between Devlin and Alicia, which complicates their operation and of course, their lives.  Performances are top notch and special mention should be made of Rains who makes his villain a human one, with a mother obsession.  The key suspense scenes is the climax in which Devlin brings Alicia down the stairs with the villain, Alex accompanying them.  A full 10-minutes of nail-biting tension!  The overhead shot of Bergman collapsing on the living room floor after being poisoned is also classic Hitchcock.

    SPELLBOUND (USA 1945) ****
    Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

    The first of the two Ingrid Bergman films made by Hitchcock, SPELLBOUND in 1945 followed by the equally excellent NOTORIOUS the year after.  Both films show Bergman hopelessly in love with the leading character.  Bergman plays Dr. Constance Petersen.  When the head of the Green Manors mental asylum Dr. Murchison (Leo. G. Carroll) is retiring to be replaced by Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck), a famous psychiatrist, it is discovered that Edwardes is an impostor with amnesia.  Constance, who has fallen in love with Edwardes helps him regain his memory.  The explanations of psychoanalysis that appear on the screen are quite dated and humorous and should be ignored.  Hitchcock’s film hooks one from the start right to the end.  The dream sequences designed by Salvador Dali are creepy enough (crooked wheel, blank cards) aided by Miklos Rozsa’s haunting score.  NOTORIOUS is a brilliant suspense thriller and mystery and one of Hitchcock’s finest works with Bergman and Peck making one of the screen’s best looking couples.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 14, 2015)

     

    Big Films opening this week are THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON.  Female movies opening include DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL, THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER and SHE'S FUNNY THAT WAY.

     

    FILM REVIEWS: 

    AROUND THE WORLD IN 50 CONCERTS (Om de wereld in 50 concerten)

    (Netherlands 2014) ***
    Directed by Heddy Honigmann

    The film begins rather erroneously with a cymbal player in the orchestra talking about his important position.  It goes on for almost 10 minutes before the audience realizes that the film is not about him, but about the orchestra he is in.  And the documentary goes on to follow the orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) as it tours the world in celebration of its 125th anniversary.  It is 50 concerts, as the title informs spread over 50 countries.  But the film is not that ambitious to show all the countries but a few -  Africa, Argentina and Russia).

    As one can probably guess from the first paragraph description of the film, AROUND THE WORLD IN 50 CONCERTS is all over the place.  It cannot decide on who to interview, on which country to concentrate on on what is most important in the film.  Watching it puts one in quite the disarray.  But the film is not short on surprises.  For one, the music is beautiful.  One cannot complain about listening to a symphony orchestra.  The stories told by the selected orchestra individuals are amazing and enlightening.  

    Director Honigmann lived in Peru and is the daughter of Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivors.  Her film understandably stresses music’s ability to unite classes and races.  One segment has Russian retiree Sergej speak movingly of a life scarred by the oppressions first of Hitler, then of Stalin.  Another has a cab driver in Africa talk about how classics help him get over the vulgarity of the streets.

    So the best thing when watching this film is to sit back and enjoy and not worry about anything else.  Documentary maker Heddy Honigmann lands with the orchestra in Buenos Aires, Soweto and St Petersburg and shows how the ensemble succeeds in gaining the hearts of people with a different cultural background.   It is a remarkable journey to the centre and the power of music which knows how to touch unexpected emotions and which helps to overcome the pain of living.

    Trailer:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2Hs2zksyV0

    DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL (UA 2015) ***
    Directed by Marielle Heller

    One can expect writer/director Marielle Heller to know the character of her teenager protagonist quite well.  After all, she had already adapted Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic comic (first given to her at Christmas by her sister) into a play which she starred in herself.  Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) is a complex teenager, immature and unsure with what she wants but still intelligent enough to make the right choices in life.  Heller paints a winning portrait of a teenager who comes off better when she first started.

    The premise of the film is a teen daughter who has an affair with her mother’s boyfriend.  She comes to terms with her emotions and grows up in the process - a sort of coming-of-age story.

    Minnie is first seen as an insecure teenager.  She writes her diary which tells her story.  The first encounter with the mother’s boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard) occurs rather matter-of-factly that the audience cannot pin-point exactly who is to blame (both should be) or who started it.  Of course, mother, Charlotte (Kristen Wiig) eventually finds out.  The aim of director Heller is to create Minnie as a typical teenager with normal problems and challengers, showing that the trouble she got into could be one that any other teenager could also get into.

    What is marvellous about the film is its believable portrayal of a teenager.  When Minnie goes head over heels in love with Munroe, it is totally expected.  Where Munroe takes the affair as a meaningless fling, she wants a relationship.  All Munroe worries about is mother finding out.    And finally when Minnie can get him, she thinks twice.  The notion that a person wants what he or she cannot get is so real, and well depicted in the film.

    Bel Powlet is close to perfect as Minnie the teen displaying both the vulnerability, testiness and intelligence of youth.  As for looks, she is pretty enough, but could also be classified as ‘ordinary’ looking.

    Despite the film’s title and the central character, DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL is not a film for teenagers, but for grownups who have all gone through the teenage phase in their lives.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9LNsSjnqBM

    FINAL GIRL (USA 2013) **

    Directed by Tyler Shields

    The premise is straight forward enough.  A young girl, Veronica (Abigail Breslin) is selected and trained by a strange man William (a buffed up Wes Bentley) for the task of being an assassin.  Her target are for four boys who hunt and kill blondes for sport.

    The film takes the story to its logical end with Veronica accomplishing her mission.

    A narrative mess with quite a few plot holes that the scriptwriter chooses to ignore, FINAL GIRL also is so-so acted, unbelievable and contains the worst action sequences put on film this year or in 2013. 

    The connection between William and the 4 boys is never explained.  Was William hired by the families of the victims?  Or is William a victim out for revenge?  The audience is told that William’s wife and daughter were killed but with no other details given.  The audience is also informed of the death of Veronica’s two parents.  If the four boys have been active murdering girls for such a long time, why is the police not active and why are there no notices on the missing girls?

    Veronica’s training is silly and she does not look tougher or that she has learnt anything.  One scene has her taught the uselessness of a gun because guns run out of bullets.  This logic makes no sense at all.  When the boys are given a hallucinatory drug by Veronica, their confronted fears are too conveniently put together.

    The film picks up a bit once the preliminaries like the plot is done.  This occurs around the film’s 30-minute mark.  Then it is blonde vs. the four boys.  The film becomes a reverse slasher horror pic but without any nudity.

    Acting is tolerable at best.  Breslin is totally unbelievable as the deadly assassin.  She looks too frail to do any fighting, especially against opponents bigger than her.  Her choke holds looks stupid and unbelievable.  

    The film is set in the 50’s.  Why?  It really does not matter when either as most of the scenes are in the woods.  The wardrobe and makeup could be taken from any decade.

    The film also lacks a satisfactory ending -  the one with the pancakes makes no sense.  The girl accomplishes her task, as expected and that is about it.

    The only thing that is a minor lift is the film’s photography.  The shots in the woods look eerie enough and occasionally stunning.  The film is also availbale on vod Aug 14th.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ec1-3Fjxy0c

    GUIDANCE (Canada 2014) ***
    Directed by Pat Mills

    The ad for the comedy GUIDANCE says: “Everyone needs guidance.”  No one needs more guidance than the film’s central character, David Gold (played by actor/writer/director Pat Mills) who has just lost his job, about to lose his apartment for failure to pay the rent and cut off from his sister’s good books.  David needs help.  The irony is that he fabricates credentials to score a last-ditch job as a high school guidance counsellor.  Surprisingly, he succeeds in dealing with the students' problems, getting along with the students and staff until the identity theft is discovered.

    The premise of a screwed up individual making good as a school guidance counsellor is nothing novel.  I have two f**ked up friends who are in this occupation in real life.  (Hopefully for my sake, they are not reading this review.)

    The film plays a bit like the TV series MR. D and the classic back to school comedy STRANGERS WITH CANDY.

    GUIDANCE makes good use of the Toronto landscape.  David is often seen riding his bike along the streetcar tracks (a Toronto familiar site) and walking around the Liberty Village area.

    GUIDANCE is not the perfect movie.  It has both flaws and pluses.  But it also contains a certain winning charm.  And credit should be given to one-man show Pat Mills for an occasionally very funny film.  Though not highly original as mentioned earlier, the ending is off-beat enough not to go for the typical Hollywood happy ending.  For all the effort Pat Mills has put in, his film deserves a look.

    One can only wonder what project Mr. Mills will be concocting up next.

    Trailer: http://searchenginefilms.com/guidance/

    I AM CHRIS FARLEY (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Brent Hodge and Derik Murray

     

    I AM CHRIS FARLEY celebrates the late comedian’s work, tracing his fame from Second City to Saturday Night Live to films like TOMMY BOY till his death at the early age of 33, in December 1997.  Talking heads are his pals who have worked with him like Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, Tom Arnold, Christina Applegate, David Spade and writer Bob Odenkirk.  The film features quite a few of his successful  sketches including appearances on the late shows.  This is a ‘happy’ film, concentrating on the man’s talents rather than his problems in life.  Interviews include his family members as well as from a brother, Kevin Farley who also does stand-up.

    The film is a worthy tribute that does Chris Farley justice as a comedian.

    This film will be inevitably compared to the recent documentary AMY, about Amy Winehouse, the talented singer who suffered the same tragic fate of drug overdose as Farley.  Unlike AMY which was unafraid to depict her drug abuse (including the scene where she was unable to perform at a concert), director Hodge largely ignores Farley’s drug abuse.  A few segments like the ones with sad Bob Odenkirk and Bob Saget talking about it make the point.

    The most entertaining parts of the doc are the comedy clips.  Farley’s performance as ‘motivational speaker, Matt Fole’ for Second City and then on Saturday Night Live with David Spade and Christina Applegate with the latter giving her point of view is the film’s best.  His appearances on the late shows (David Letterman and Conan O’Brien) are also priceless.

    But the film lacks more insight to the Farley’s demons.  His highs are mentioned but little else is heard of his troubles.  What drove him to drink and drugs?  What kind of drugs was he hooked on?  His social and love life are also ignored.  (Farley went to rehab 17 times and died of an overdose of morphine and cocaine.)

    Why a full documentary on Chris Farley?  Farley though a talented comedian is not a great person that changed the world or made the world a better place to live in.  As for talent, there are other more important influences of the day like the old classic comedians like Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Mel Blanc - a list too many to mention.  The doc got made because Farley’s friends wanted a pay tribute to a funny person.  No harm in that!  In the words of Farley himself: “Everyone loves it when Tubby falls down.”   Hopefully this film will be a catalyst for other films about comedians to be made.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r835keCmzHM

    THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER (Israel/France 2014) ***
    Directed by Nadav Lapid

    Kindergarten teacher of 15 years, Nira (Sarit Larry) discovers a child prodigy in the form of her 5-year old student Yoav (Avi Shnaidman).  She nurtures his talent of poetry writing.

    But this is not the typical Hollywood story.  One would expect a tear jerker film in which the teacher goes against all odds in championing the boy’s talent.  The story would likely have the boy be a rebellious one, who would have his nature tamed by his talent.  Lapid’s story is completely different.

    Lapid’s film centres on the teacher instead of the boy or the boy’s talent.  Nira shields him and his talent to the state of perverseness.  She believes that the boy should be protected and she protects him at all costs.  She even goes to the extent of kidnapping him at the end of the film.  When she discovers that the boy’s nanny is stealing the poems for her acting auditions, Nira gets the many, Miri (Ester Rada) fired.  But she herself steals the poems for her poetry group, claiming the boy’s poems as her own.  This is a disturbing story of a disturbed person. But on the outward, Nira appears normal with a husband and two children.  Director Lapid pulls a good one on his audience.

    But Lapid’s film also reflects the current Israeli society.  The film clearly imposes Lapid’s beliefs.  At one point in the film, a character compares the decision of joining the army to that made by a moron, which is quite a harsh comparison.  Clearly Lapid’s film favours poetry and art but the film need not condemn others uninterested in the arts.  Apparently, decorator lapis also wrote poems as a child.

    The film also feels perverted in the way the camera also seem to linger on Nira’s breasts or to display the uncomfortable sex scenes.

    The boy Yoav looks too innocent to be able to write the poems recited in the film.  Perhaps this is Lapid’s intention to display the disbelief.  But it goes on a bit far.  The audience is led to believe that a 5-year old child who has barely learnt to speak or write in his mother tongue be able to write poems while just strolling up and down.

    One also wonders at the purpose or message of the film.  No doubt the film decries the decay of art and loss of individuality, but the story is a strange one in relaying the message.

    Lapid’s film is nicely shot in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem adding a bonus to the film’s story.

    The result is a complex film that demands more thought on reflection.  Though not the perfect film, THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHer is a worthy effort and a good thought provoking feature.  The ending (not the be spoiled in this review) is also a strange one.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ewo2SA4qVVg

    THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Guy Ritchie

    U.N.C.L.E. (which stands for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, that is only revealed at the end of the film) agents Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) are recruited (blackmailed to work in reality) to save the world. The duo team up on a joint mission to stop a mysterious international criminal organization led by super gorgeous Lady Gaga-like Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki), which is bent on destabilizing the fragile balance of power through the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology.   Solo rescues Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a vanished German scientist, who is kidnapped to build a nuclear warhead.

    As expected from Guy Ritchie, who penned the script with Lionel Wigram, the director of stylist action comedies like SNATCH and LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is more style than substance.  The opening action sequence, especially the car chase (neck-to-neck) is extremely well done, which can hardly be matched by any of the other action sequences in the film.

    The chief complaint of adapting popular TV characters is found in Ritchie’s film.  Ritchie completely butchered Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in his SHERLOCK HOLMES films turning them from thinking sleuths to action heroes.  Not only is the famous MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. music theme missing in the film (something that the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE films kept to good advantage) is that the agency of THRUSH is completely omitted.  The soundtrack is filled with spheSolo and Kuryakin’s boss Alexander Waverly is changed from American (played by Leo G. Carroll) to British (Hugh Grant) and the girl from U.N.C.L.E. never appeared till long through the TV series.  In the film, Solo and Kuryakin are constantly fighting as American and Russian.  They never fought in any of the TV series.

    But THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. lies somewhere between spy spoof and action flick.  The problem is that this film and the series in particular are a bit of both.  As for spy spoofs, audiences have seen better in AUSTIN POWERS and in the two French OSS 117 spoofs and as for the other, there are countless action blockbuster flicks released monthly.

    The standouts of the film are its 60’s stylish atmosphere.  The outlandish sets, wardrobe and props as well as the titles and split screen look something right out of the films of the era.  What is short on excitement is substituted for style.

    There were a total of eight MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. films made based on the series.  They were low budget, camp and more fun.  I have seen all of them from TO TRAP A SPY to HOW TO STEAL THE WORLD and would swap the viewing of any of these to this one.   Still for anyone growing up on TV in the 60’s, like me, this film still offers a good dish of nostalgia even though it just whets the appetite.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4K4Iv_N9Nno

    SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY (USA 2014) **

    Directed by Peter Bogdanovich

     

     

    SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAYis advertised as a screwball comedy.  But it feels like a bedroom farce.  Hookers hide in bathrooms and appear at restaurants while wives and other lovers storm in and out of bedrooms and restaurants.

    The film features the interconnected personal lives of the cast and crew of a Broadway production with established director Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson) as the central character providing the link.  The trouble starts when he casts his call girl-turned-actress Isabella "Izzy" Patterson (Imogen Poots) in a new play to star alongside his wife Delta (Kathryn Hahn) and her ex-lover Seth Gilbert (Rhys Ifans).  Why?  The script calls for lots of these unexplainable acts.  So don’t ask!  Into all this comes Izzy's therapist Jane (Jennifer Anniston), who is consumed with her own failing relationship with Arnold's playwright Joshua Fleet (Will Forte), who, to complicate matters also developing a crush on Izzy.

    Bogdanovich fascination with call girls in this film is understandable given his past films like SAINT JACK that got the director banned for life from entreating Singapore.  He made a film about a returning British soldier to Singapore after the war to open a brothel.  Knowing that the government will not approve the film due to con ten , he submitted a fake script entitled JACK OF HEARTS.  Obviously the government found out.  In SHE’S FUNNY THAYT WAY, Izzy’s line of work flows into the film, as does her colleagues and boss, Vicki (Debi Mazar).

    The script is co-written by Bogdnovich and his ex-wife Louise Stratten.  In their real life, Louise’s sister was a porn star that Bogdanovich cast as an actress.  The sister was sadly murdered and stalked by her husband who ended up shooting himself.  So, the part of the director casting a call girl flows into this film.

    The film benefits from the impressive list of stars including cameos from past Bogdanovich films.  Tatum O’ Neal from PAPER MOON appears as a waitress as does Cybill Shepherd from THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and DAISY MILLER.  Joanna Lumley and Quentin Tarantino also make welcome surprises.

    The idea of play within a play and art imitating life and vice versa is played too obviously.  In a lot of dialogue, the audience is to be intentionally vague as to whether the dialogue refers to the real life or acted characters.  But it is the comedic setups that are the  problem.  From the first one, in which Izzy, now a successful star is being interviewed by a reporter (Illeana Douglas) to the hotel room mix-up, they do propel the plot but unfortunately do not generate many laughs.  Most of the characters are also not used to their full comedic potential.  Because the film is quite dialogue intensive, it feels like a Woody Allen romantic comedy, and especially when the Jewish characters like the judge (Austin Pendleton) shows up.

    Its been a while since director Bogdanovich had a hit since THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, WHAT’S UP DOC? and PAPER MOON.  SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY is not it.  But the screwball comedy haS a few good moments.

    Trailer:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7kLUOjKAqE

     

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: How to Change the World

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documentary: AMY

    Best Action: ANT-MAN

    Best Foreign: A HARD DAY (South Korea)

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

  • Love, Disco and Ballet at SummerWorks

    We can all point to a song that triggers specific types of memories or emotions. Oftentimes those emotions are linked to relationships. We’ve all been caught off guard when a song starts playing on the radio, in a store or a restaurant and finding ourselves being emotionally transported back to memorable moments such as a breakup, a road trip with a significant other, or the day you met. “Strumming my pain with his fingers, singing my life with his words, killing me softly with his song,” as Roberta Flack famously said.

    In the case of Toronto-based cabaret performer and choreographer Ryan G. Hinds, the song that he felt spoke to his experience at the painful end of a relationship was Donna Summer’s disco hit from the ‘70s, MacArthur Park Suite. It’s a famous song about love gone. “I had a separation of my own and as I was being very dramatic, heart-broken and upset over the whole thing, the song came on my iPod and I thought I really identified with the emotions and the story behind the song,” said Hinds. “What I love about Donna Summer’s original MacArthur Park Suite is that it’s a very detailed story that really covers what it feels like to be in love and then what it feels like for that love to be over.”

    Since Hinds is a singer, he thought it would be a great song for him to sing one day on stage. But as he listened to the song a few more times, he realized that it needed something a bit more epic than just him singing because the song is so passionate. “The heartbreak in it isn’t just minor it’s a very deeply felt thing. So I thought it would be a great opera; it would be a great ballet, something along those lines,” he said.

    Hinds thought performing the song as a ballet musical would be an ideal combination. “I just started imagining what that would look like,” as he recalled. Disco is a black art form created by black gay people. Ballet, on the other hand, traces its origins in Europe through the Italian Renaissance. “I thought it would be interesting to fuse these two art forms together that seemed really disparate. And what I found out was they actually fit together really nicely. The energy and passion of disco really line up nicely with the energy and passion of ballet. They’re both great forms for story telling,” as he explained. “I thought it was going to be something fun to play with and it provided and excuse to get up and start working and stop crying. To get out of my own misery and learn how to make it something fun, energetic, lively and something that people can laugh at.”

    The result was a twenty-minute show which Hinds originally staged at Buddies in Bad Times’ Rhubard Festival. The current show now being presented until August 12, 2015 as part of the SummerWorks festival has been expanded to an hour in length. The longer version of the show essentially complements the original version with two additional scenes that Hinds characterize as a companion piece inspired by another Donna Summer song, I Feel Love.

    In that second part of the show, Hinds created a forum for the dancers to express their views about love. “We’ve broken it down so it’s all of the dancers in the show having a chance to talk about their feelings and their experiences around what love is and what love means to them; and what love represents in the world. Some of us are excited about the concept. Some of us are afraid of the concept. Some of us can’t live without the idea of love,” Hinds said. The way this was done is by recording a conversation between all the performers exploring their experiences with love. The conversation was then transcribed, edited, and the words were then made into monologues corresponding with dance solos.

    So what also makes this show unique is that the dancers are heard speaking on stage. “Dancers are known for dancing. Ballets are not known for having text or dialogue or song,” as Hinds points out. While Hinds describes the MacArthur Park Suite part as the funnier half of the show and “the more energetic, exciting audience sort of like crowd-pleasing half,” he contrasts the other I Feel Love half as “more personal, intimate and thoughtful.” “They’re quite different but they connect nicely. I really do feel like it’s a whole piece. It’s a total work of art,” he adds.

    Click here for more information about the show.

    LOCATION
    Factory Theatre Mainspace
    125 Bathurst Street Toronto

    PRICE $15

    SHOW TIMES
    Thursday August 6, 6 PM
    Sunday August 9, 7 PM
    Monday August 10, 9:30 PM
    Wednesday August 12, 4:45 PM

    Related Links

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 7, 2015)

    Opening this week RICKI AND THE FLASH and FANTASTIC FOUR.  Smaller films include SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE, THE GIFT, DIAMOND TONGUES, STEAK (R)EVOLUTION and HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD.

     

    FILM REVIEWS: 

     

    DIAMOND TONGUES (Canada 2015) **

    Directed by Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson

    DIAMOND TONGUES (I have no clue why the film is called that) tells the difficult story of an unlikeable female character.  Edith Weland (Leah Goldstein) is a total loser and aspiring actress living in Toronto.  She is also not the nicest or most honest person.

    She lands a small part as ‘annoyed customer’ in a vampire flick “Blood Sausages”.  When she goes for rehearsal, she discovers to her dismay, that her ex-boyfriend, Ben (Adam Gurfinkel) who she had dumped has landed the main lead role.  She cannot handle this and quits.  Meanwhile, her roommate (Leah Wildman) gains a role in a new play.  Her best friend (Nick Flanagan), an equal loser at least has a steady job as a writer but he hates the job.

    The film follows Edith like a dog.  The camera captures her idiosyncrasies and irrational behaviour.  But she lies occasionally.  Despite her behaviour, the audience adapts to her, forgiving her and is somewhat hopeful that she succeeds.  This is partly due to the fact that Edith is portrayed like an authentic human being, and someone that the audience can relate to.  Actress Leah Goldstein is perfect in the role and she delivers a performance to be reckoned with.

    The film is complemented by the music of many indie Toronto musicians.  But it often plays softly in the background so that it can faintly be heard.  

    The tacked on happy ending, especially once Edith comes to self realization of her destructive nature stands out as a cop-out.

    Watching the film gives the feeling of the directors’ predicament.  They, like the lead character Edith, believes that are perfect, and puts everything said to deliver a product they think is great.  DIAMOND TONGUES, about a self-conscious loser who goes around annoying everyone, is watchable and occasionally insightful on the Toronto art scene,but who really wants to pay to watch a film or a character like this one.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqXbzgMdTbQ

     

    FANTASTIC FOUR (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Josh Trank

    A reboot and the third of 20th Century Fox’s FANTASTIC FOUR films, this one is remarkably different from the first two FANTASTIC FOUR films as well as from general Marvel super hero films.  As a result, fans may not be appreciative of the novelty which has resulted in generally poor reviews received on the film so far.  But this reviewer found the film a welcome change.  Be forewarned that this reviewer did not like THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON or GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.

    The film begins with a tale of two outcast school kids.  Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) have worked together on a prototype teleporter since their childhood, eventually attracting the attention of Professor Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), director of the Baxter Foundation, a government-sponsored research institute for young prodigies.  Reed is recruited to join them and aid Storm's children, scientist Sue Storm (Kate Mara) and technician Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), into completing a "Quantum Gate" designed by Storm's wayward protege, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), who begrudgingly agrees to help due to his unrequited feelings for Sue.

    This story based on a script co-written by Trank takes it to the full limit.  The film concentrates on the four, their friendship and work together with a lot of emphasis put on their work on their teleporter.  This takes the film right to the very end with only 15 minutes or so left for the action sequences, a point that will surely infuriate action fans expecting more fights and special effects.

    The Planet Zero in the film looks like the set of Mars in the GET CARTER film.  But it still a stunning set with the four, still without their super powers exploring the planet’s rugged terrain.

    But once the film gets into the last 15 minutes of action, the film becomes indistinguishable from other action hero pics.  The film has a good and careful build-up, perhaps too good that the climax cannot match what the audience has been primed to expect.

    The last fight sequence seems to appear right out of a martial-arts movie (like DRAGON INN) in which the heroes have to group together to fight a villain that is stronger than each of the individuals.  This film like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE ROGUE CITY stresses the importance of looking out for one’s mates.

    The script contains a few loopholes.  Where did Doom get his cape or how did he survive alone on the planet.  How the four travel in Sue’s transparent bubble to the other dimension also questions credibility.

    Miles Teller, last seen in WHIPLASH has proven himself an apt actor and carries the film well on his shoulders.  Tim Blake Nelson is good as Dr. Allen an evil government bureaucrat who gets his comeuppance.

    FANTASTIC FOUR feels more like a science fiction mystery movie than a super hero action film.  Hopefully the film will be a hit despite the negative reviews, for it is a good and worthy effort, and this reviewer found the film entertaining enough.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuV4BCYv-YY

    THE GIFT (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Joel Edgerton

    Actor Joel Edgerton, best known for his role in STAR WARS Episodes II and III, stars n his own and first directorial feature, a horror suspensor that is as creepy as creepy can be.

    Edgerton gives himself the prime role of the mysterious stranger, Gordo, nicknamed Weirdo.  Gordo meets old schoolmate Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall) as they move to a new town.  Gordo keeps surprising them with gifts till Simon gets uncomfortable.  As the film ads say, the first gift was a message, the second was a warning etc.  Simon tells Gordo to leave them alone.  The dog is kidnapped.  But apparently, Gordo is not the bad guy.  Robyn discovers from Gordo’s past that her husband Simon is not the man she thought him to be.  Who is the real creep then?

    The film plays like a variation of a house invasion horror film.  Gordo shows up uninvited, more than once to turn the couple’s life upside down.

    Edgerton relies on cheap scares, twice during the film.  The first big shock on the audience occurs when the dog suddenly jumps at the glass door at night with the volume on the soundtrack turned 5 notches up.  The other occurs during Robyn’s dream sequence.  Though those are the only two, and guaranteed to make one jump, these tricks are annoying, unnecessary and non-cinematic.

    The script contains a few unexpected surprises.  Robyn has taken pills in the past.  The intruder during a house party turns out to be someone totally unexpected.

    But the film has one last trick at the end that is not that hard to guess.  I guessed it correctly, due to the title of the film.  The film would definitely be more enjoyable if the twist was unexpected.  Despite this flaw, the film contains several other neat turns.

    But Edgerton’s thriller is well paced, keeping key notes of the plot at bay and holding the audience’s interest despite is rather slow pace.  In the end, all the loose ends tie in neatly and whoever has done bad get their comeuppance.  THE GIFT ends up a satisfactory thriller and worthy directorial debut from Edgerton. 

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3IiZU9JBuE

    HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD (Canada/UK 2015) ****

    Directed by Jerry Rothwell

    Many would remember Trish Dolman’s  2011 documentary ECO-PIRATE: THE STORY OF PAUL WATSON,the story of radical conservationist Paul Watson during anti-whaling campaigns in the Antarctic in 2009 and 2010, and recounts his history and controversial methods as an activist and media personality.  Watson is a secondary though no less important character in another important documentary on the environment.  HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD, centres on Greenpeace rather than any single individual.  

    It all started in 1971, when a group of friends sail into a U.S. nuclear test zone, and their protest captured the world's imagination.   The successful protest led to other projects like saving the whales and the seal cubs.  The rare archive brings their extraordinary world to life. This is the  troubled story of the pioneers who founded Greenpeace and defined the modern green movement.

    The film is divided into 5 parts on “how to change the world’.  Start a mind bomb; Put your body where your mouth is; Fear Success; The revolution will not be organized etc. all serve to gear the film into a directed perspective, which ironically was what Greenpeace lacked.  But the titles tend to undermine the seriousness of the topic on how cruel man can be.

    Though the film is a documentary, it follows the formula of a fiction film.  There is the introduction to Greenpeace, the rise to glory followed by the obstacles and the destruction of what the organization had fought and stood for - like a Harlequin romance novel.  Then comes the redemption with all the villains (the eco-Judas Patrick Moore, who earns a living now by talking rubbish about global warming being untrue) expelled, drawing the film to its satisfactory conclusion.

    The anti-hero of the piece is Bob Hunter.  The film is unbiased, showing both his good and bad side.  The latter side is pretty scary, showing Hunter at his worst, being incoherent, indecisive, smoking pot, consuming excessive alcohol and hooked on morphine.  The narration is provided by actor Barry Pepper (chosen most likely for the reason the actor is Vancouver born, like Greenpeace) doing Bob Hunter’s voice, as the film is based on the writings of Hunter.  It is interesting to note that there is no mention of Bob Hunter in the Paul Watson 2011 documentary,

    The film contains impressive research material and is coherently put together.  The film invokes anger, disgust, shock, awe and finally forces the audience to question his/her stand on the subject.  The film’s most effective and disturbing segment is the killing by whale hunters of a baby sperm whale.  The blood that spills into the sea and the factory-like prevision of skinning the whale is almost unwatchable.  This is exactly what a good documentary should do.

    It has been said that a great film is one that would inspire one to change ones life after leaving the theatre.  HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD comes quite close to doing that.

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/126619145

    RICKI AND THE FLASH (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Jonathan Demme

    RICKI AND THE FLASH has three big Academy Award names attached to it.  3-time Oscar Winner Meryl Streep stars as Ricki the rock singer in a rock comedy drama directed by Oscar winning Jonathan Demme (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, PHILADELPHIA, SWIMMING WITH SHARKS) and penned by Oscar screenwriter Diablo Cody.

    The film centres on Linda (Streep) who has renamed herself Ricki.  The story is on her relationships with her rock band called the Flash and her estranged family.

    Demme’s film is easy going on plot but often too easy going.  At one point the main issue at hand appears to be the mother daughter relationship and at another point, the film discards it with the daughter seen sitting alone as if removed from her importance in the story.  The film delves suddenly in the love relationship between Ricki and her guitarist, which appears to be in trouble only to be transformed into perfect love for no reason.

    There are two restaurant scenes that do not make sense.  The first has Ricki and daughter speaking out loud and lewdly embarrassing a father and young boy in their private space in a donut shop.  The purpose of  the scene is questionable as one would think that the script would like to have the audience take the side of the mum and daughter instead of strangers.  The other has the family having a dinner gathering in a  packed restaurant so that they can all overhear the family’s again embarrassing arguments.  If the family knows that there is going to be trouble at the table, why go out, and why go out to such a packed restaurant?

    The film’s ending in which Ricki sings on stage at the wedding to be then cheered along by the entire wedding party and guests is too staged and unbelievable despite the choice of a Bruce Springstein song.  Worst still are the closing credits when the audience are forced to watch he entire cast do their dancing moves.

    Streep looks a bit out of place singing the rock songs even though she did look authentic playing the guitar, which she learnt to play specially for her role.  Question is whether she will earn another Oscar nomination.  Mamie Gummer, Streep’s daughter plays Ricki’s daughter in the film. Gummerhas an unchaining resemblance to her mother and she delivers a performance that seems to be in competition with her mum’s.

    Whether Ricki is a successful rock star is up to the audience to decide.  At the start of the film, Ricki claims at the bar that she sings the popular songs because her audience want it.  Ricki sings a few of her own written songs.  The audience can assume that she is successful in her career in that she has her own songs but not for the fact that she has no money most of the time.

    The house of Pete (Kevin Kline), Ricki’s too tolerant ex-husband for my liking,  is remarkable characterless and bland but perfectly decorated with the lawns and garden perfectly groomed.  The audience is supposed to believe that all his hard work and wealth has gone to waste here compared to Ricki’s rich life without money.

    Despite watchable performances, RICKI AND THE FLASH is a film with a lazy script that ends up like its lead character Ricki, a woman with good ideas but eventually ending up nowhere trying to pick up the broken pieces.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fK1QTSkxlVk

     

    SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE (UK/France 2015) ***1/2

    Directed by Mark Burton and Richard Starza

    To those unfamiliar with the Shaun the Sheep animation, it is stop-motion claymation containing no dialogue and very little on screen text from the Aardman Studios.

    SHAUN THE SHEEP THE MOVIE moves the TV series to the big screen.  In the series, Shun is the sheep that does not follow the flock.  He often gets the better of Bitzer, the farmer’s sheepdog and gets into various misadventures at the farm.  It is an gigantic task for the writer/director team Mark Burton and Richard Starza as the entire story has to be told in cinematic terms visually.  The film appears at times like an old silent comedy for obvious reasons, but the directors are very inventive and expressive and the film works very, very well.  An example is the cow jumping over the moon, thigh the moon in this case happens to be in the form of the sign of the local pub called The Moon.)

    The film begins with the daily routine of Shaun, his buddies like the pigs, the sheepdog and the farmer himself) at the farm.  The routines are repeated day after day to the point of boredom, even to the rooster that has to wake up the farm very morning.  Shaun observes an ad on the bus ‘to go for a holiday’.  So, Shaun devices a (very comical) scheme to escape to the big city.

    The film’s funniest segment is the restaurant where the sheep  all dressed up, try to disguise themselves as humans going for an expensive meal.  When the youngest lamb escapes and heads for the dessert tray, things come to a hilarious hilt.  The many other comedic set-ups are just as inventive and funny.

    Shaun the Sheep began as a short TV series before making it to the big screen.  Like many TV series, especially the British ones, the story on the the big screen takes the characters going on holiday to another city.  Kevin and Perry in KEVIN AND PERRY AT LARGE (not released in North America) got into trouble in Ibiza while The Inbetweeners (series not shown in North America) also took to the European city of Crete.  In this film, Shaun and his gang take a holiday from the farm and head to the city and get into their misadventures before they decide that the city is not their thing.  They then try to get back to the farm while dodging the bad guy, which takes the form of an animal containment officer, known as Trumper.

    This reviewer is not a fan of animation where the characters do not speak or utter unintelligible dialogue.  But one cannot go against the grain of the majority.  The film stands at the point of writing with a 100% approval rating.  This film is definitely better than THE MINIONS movie for sure, but I still prefer the Aardman Studio talkies like WALLACE AND GROMIT, ARTHUR CHRISTMAS and CHICKEN RUN.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQvwiOWpj7o

    STEAK (R)EVOLUTION (France 2014) ***
    Directed by Franck Ribière

    This is the documentary every steak lover has to see.  And the film will not only guarantee to whet ones appetite but to educate on what a good steak is all about.

    Director Franck Ribière travels the world to bring the 10 best steaks in the world.  The journey takes the audience through various destinations including Scotland, France, Corsica, JapanItaly, Brazil and of course, U.S.A and Canada.  It is quite the world road trip with lots to learn from the different cultures.

    One British butcher talks about beef aging - what is known as ‘well-hung beef’.  But he says the circulation of the cold room is a big factor was how the hung meat matures.  The idea is to let the meat break down a little and to get rid of the water.  If there is no air circulation or of the meat is just hung at the butcher’s shop, the meat does not get any better.  Another talks about how he could sell his land in Corsica to own villas but he prefer to keep his cows.  Yet another talks of his ‘Florence’ before killing her and savouring her ground beef and steaks.  The talking heads in the film make more than intriguing folk.  Another is a French breeder, he has an MBA and a degree at the same time, indicating that times have changed.   One butcher says he is now proud of his profession and not ashamed of it as in the past.

    But the bests sights on film are the sizzling steaks.  One restaurant’s secret is to cook the meat twice.  The sight of the sizzling fat and meat are mouth-watering.  And as all the restaurant chefs/breeders/butchers say; the meat has to be fat and the animal fattened slowly.

    The audience is also educated on the various type of cattle, how they are differently fed (grass vs. grain which is the ‘earth’ way) and how the locality affects the meat.  Even how the animal feels just before the slaughter matters. If the animal is tense, the meat will be tough.  Wonder how this is true for other meats like chicken.

    STEAK (R)EVOLUTION come highly recommended as an educational, fun and mouth-watering entertainment.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXE0EgEV-X8

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: How to Change the World

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documentary: AMY

    Best Action: ANT-MAN

    Best Foreign: A HARD DAY (South Korea)

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

    Best Western: SLOW WEST

  • Obeah Opera: Reclaiming the sounds from before the Middle Passage

    Growing up in a Haitian family, the memory of a fateful gathering on August 14, 1791 — which would set into motion the creation of the world’s first black republic — has been part and parcel of my native community’s collective consciousness. This defining event was the Bois Caïman ceremony, presided by Jamaican-born Haitian slave leader Dutty Bookman, where a group of enslaved Africans planned an insurrection against French colonial powers of Saint-Domingue, on the island of Hispaniola. The secret ceremony held in a forested area near the city of Le Cap featured a vodou ceremony, launching the rebellion, which would lead to Haiti’s declaration of independence in on January 1, 1804. Never before in history had slaves overthrown their masters.

    But in spite of these over two hundred years of Haitian independence, the real stigma associated with religious practices brought into the Caribbean, and the Americas as a whole, by enslaved Africans across the Middle Passage has largely remained. The diverse incarnations of the Yoruba mythology system of beliefs from West Africa found in vodou (vodun or voodoo), Santerià or Obeah are often characterized as devilish and evil. In order to survive and maintain their cultural roots in the plantations of the Caribbean, Brazil and other places, the displaced African practitioners often had to mask their ancestral beliefs by using the guise of Roman Catholicism.

    “They burned our drums,” said Toronto-based filmmaker, director and playwright Nicole Brooks. I recently spoke to her about her world premierea capella musical odyssey, Obeah Opera — commissioned by Panamania, the 35-day arts and cultural festival. Produced by Culchahworks Arts Collective, in association with Nightwood Theatre and b current, the opera performed by fourteen women will be staged from August 4-8, 2015 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in The Distillery District.

    When Brooks staged the original version of Obeah Opera in 2012, she recalls some of the uneasiness in the black community about the play’s title. “We were hearing that people were ripping down the posters because of the name Obeah Opera — saying it was devil ‘tings. Even my mother was like: ‘You obeah woman now?’ We actually had to have a town hall meeting to have people talk about it,” as she recalls.

    Brooks’ idea for Obeah Opera came from her studies of the Salem Witch Trials, which took place in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. In 1953, Arthur Miller wrote a play called The Crucible, which examined the Salem Witch Trials as a comparative analysis of the anti-communist hysteria surrounding the scourge of McCarthyism. For her part, Nicole Brooks decided to focus on the perspective of Tituba, the Afro-Caribbean woman who was the first to be accused of witchcraft in the town, although she was never put to death.

    Even though Tituba is only briefly mentioned, as Brooks did further research on her, something stood out. “I found some Puritan writings with a reference to ‘Obiah.’ And I thought, that’s not an American term; it’s a Caribbean term. How did they get that? There had to have been an Afro-Caribbean presence in the town,” as she determined. Sure enough, there was. In fact, Tituba itself is a Yoruba word. “So I designed the play to basically put it through the vantage point and focal point of the slave women because they were not mentioned,” said Brooks. “Anytime you look at the Salem Witch Trials, Tituba’s there for two seconds and then it becomes a witch hunt with the white women.”

    Several theories have been advanced to explain the social context and climate that led to the persecution of these suspected witches. One of those theories which seemed particularly salient for Brooks is that, since the people who made up the jury at the time were doctors and lawyers, they were attempting to purge natural healers. “Obeah is a healing art. We understand that our grandmothers would understand the herbs and know what to give when we’re sick and what have you. That’s the Obeah I’m talking about,” as Brooks explained. “When we were brought over as slaves, we were told that anything African was the devil. So any of our spiritual practices, or what have you, if it didn’t coincide with Christianity we would be whipped if we were practicing it.”

    Going back to the roots, Obeah Opera looks at various types of traditional Obeah music as expressed in different regions. She argues that there is an oft-unrecognized link between resistance music and what has grown out of it like reggae music, jazz, blues and gospel.

    Click here for more info about the musical play.

     

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Jul 31, 2015)

    Opening this week is the big Tom Cruise MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION movie.  The LEGO BRICKUMENTARY also makes it debut.

    FILM REVIEWS: 

    BEST OF ENEMIES (USA 2015) ***1/2

    Directed by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon

    Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s documentary BEST OF ENEMIES deals with subject matter that would turn away the average non-American viewer.  For one it is set in the 60’s with a political agenda with the Republicans debating the Democrats.  The two debaters are William F Buckley  and Gore Vidal, the former not as well known.  The debates were a brainstorm of  ABC TV, which was number three after CBS and NBC.  For the non-American, who would even care?  Yet, BEST OF ENEMIES tuns out to be a pleasure to watch, compelling, hilarious, smart, insightful and 100% entertaining.  Thanks to the directors for careful setting up of the material and to know what works to entertain an audience.

    The enemies are Gore Vidal and William F Buckley.  Vidal best known as the gay writer of MYRA BRECKINRIDGE the best selling novel that ending up one of the worst films of all time (lots of clips from it with Raquel Welch in it).  Vidal is as controversial a celebrity as they come.  His recent documentary GORE VIDAL UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA also proved intriguing fodder.  Vidal is reputed to be the greatest talker of that time as Buckley the best debater.  The former speaks for the liberal Democrats and the latter conservative Republicans.  They were hired by ABC for 10 debates telecast on National Television.  But they more than often got personal and dirty than speak on the topics they were supposed to.  These two set the stage for TV shouting programs that evolved to popular shows like Jerry Springer.  Their best debate is presented in this film in its best segment with Vidal calling Buckley a crpto-Nazi resulting in Buckley losing it (threatening to punch Vidal in the goddamm face) and regretting it after.

    The documentary is as carefully and smartly staged as any Oscar winning screenplay.  The stage is set at the film start with the raison d’être laid out, as the readings by John Lithgow and Kelsey Grammar inform.  ABC was the last studio in its ratings and used these two to debate and raise the station’s ratings.  If these two could do that, they could surely also do the same for a film like this, regardless of whether the audience is interested or not in America, politics or history.  The film works like spectators in an arena where the gladiators battling verbally instead of using physical weapons.

    The directors also put the debates into context as a period piece in studying America in the 60’s.  There is the post-Kennedy context of the conventions and the rioting and protests that accompanied the Democratic convention.   The ugliness and riots of Chicago are centred with lots of archive footage on display.  But the audience is still reminded that the principal subject of the film is the two best of enemies.

    As the film progresses, one would definitely wonder how the directors would conclude their film.  Buckley passed away and Vidal has the last words.  But the directors end up putting in their say as well.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzgfQvB2dvA

    BIKES vs CARS (Sweden/Norway 2015) ***
    Directed by Fredrik Gertten

    The documentary BIKES vs CARS, clearly on the side of bikes opens in the two unfriendliest bicycle cities in the world - Sao Paulo and Los Angeles.  The two cities are riddled with traffic jams with cyclists having a hell of a time for the sheer number of cars and bike unfriendly laws.

    Gerrten’s doc has a wide appeal.  Almost everyone drives a car or rides a bike or does both.  And the battle is an ongoing one.  As a driver, everyone including myself at one time or other have been infuriated at cyclists who never obey the traffic rules.  On the other hand, cyclists are at the mercy of the road hog drivers who I have seen make right turns, even when not allowed to make one, endangering the lives of the cyclists, who can do nothing but swear at them.  The film tackles the issue correctly by blaming the traffic laws and the city planners.

    Director Gerrten employs a good filming tactic.  He gets his audience riled up - mainly at the motorists and the government and then in the climax of the film, show how both cities have improved and how the two cyclist activists on display are finally satisfied.

    In the middle of the film, other cities are on display.  Besides shots of traffic-laden cities lie Seoul, Shanghai and Mumbai, the film centres on Toronto and Copenhagen, and with good reason.

    Copenhagen is the number one bike city in the world.  Gertten makes an odd but interesting choice by having a cab driver commentate on the state of cyclists in the Danish capital.  He is infuriated.  Hundreds of cyclists appear at rush hour from every direction.  He has to drive extra carefully not to hit anyone, even though he is in the right of way.  Clearly, the cyclist is King.  The film informs that 3 out of 4 people in Copenhagen own a bike whereas in L.A. 3% of the population ride a bike.

    The film also brings in the subject of population and gridlock, two side plots that do not involve the battle of cars and bikes.  Interesting facts are brought out, such as the pollution level dropping by 50% when the 405 highway in L.A. was closed for a few days for maintenance and everyone left their vehicles at home.

    Then, there is Toronto.  Toronto is relatively bike friendly and lies somewhere between L.A. and Copenhagen.  The number of cyclists in Toronto are increasing and despite the negatively portrayed in the film by the removal of the bike lanes in Toronto, the number of streets with the lanes are in fact increasing with more bicycles on the roads.  The easy target of the then Toronto mayor Rob Ford, the clown again brings the circus to town.  His remarks that he is compassionate at the deaths of cyclists in accidents but that it is at the end of the day, the fault of the cyclists are typical of the words that come from him.

    Gerrten invokes the anger from the audience with the Sao Paulo story of the driver/bike accident in which the cyclist’s arm was torn from his body and left in the car  The driver drove for 5 minutes before dropping his friend off and then dropping off the evidence.

    BIKES vs CARS is an entertaining enough documentary while educating though rather too broadly.  Still it is a good sight to see on film the modern number one bike city of Copenhagen where bikes rule.  Though the war there might still be going on.

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/72980283

    THE LEGO BRICKUMENTARY (USA/Denmark 2015) ***
    Directed by Daniel Junge, Kief Davidson

    At one point in this documentary, the LEGO character (from the LEGO MOVIE) who narrates the film with the voice of Jason Bateman, cracks a joke and then remarks that it might not be funny because the writers (the two directors and Davis Coombe) are not (funny).  The statement hits the truth on the nail’s head.  But this documentary on the success of the LEGO toy is as assured as the LEGO concept itself, and with that, it succeeds despite being too geared towards the LEGO community.

    Originally called BEYOND THE BRICK, this ‘brickumentary’ celebrates the 1958 Danish company that is the number 2 toy company in the world.  It celebrates the LEGO brand, anything that is brick built, educates on the LEGO community, the LEGO institutions, its projects and includes a few spinoffs.  The film’s climax is the sort of LEGO expo in which fans bring together their prize creations in winning top prizes including the coveted people’s choice award (won by a woman three years in a row).  In short, the film playfully delves into the extraordinary impact of the LEGO brick, its massive global fan base, and the innovative uses for it that has sprung up around the world.

    Since the birth of their trademark toy in 1958, The LEGO Group has produced over 400 billion bricks.  And the film is clear to point out, LEGO bricks are not just for kids, adults take them just as seriously.  Adult Fans of LEGO (acronym AFOL) around the globe are unashamedly declaring their love for the brick, brick artists are creating stunning and surprising creations, and LEGO master builders are building human scale and larger structures.  LEGO bricks are being used educationally, therapeutically and have provided a universal system for human creativity and our innate desire to build.

    THE LEGO MOVIE is inevitably referenced to.  Surprisingly, only one short clip of the film is shown and it is emphasized (unfavourably) that the film was made using computer graphics and not the true Lego brick stop motion, a very tedious and painful process that is utilized in true Lego brick movies.  These true brick movies are developed by a sub group of Lego enthusiasts and their films on display here make the most interesting part of this movie.

    The film omits the business part of Lego.  The part of the company almost failing and coming back to its feet is mentioned only too briefly.  But with the current success of the Lego company, aided with the LEGO MOVIE and an upcoming sequel, the company has great financial promise.  But the film fails to mention that LEGO is a private company and the public has no chance of investing in it.  But the film mentions the business aspect of a weapon Lego spin off, which the company refuses to indulge in, because of its non-weapon policy.

    Cameos in the film are few (directors of THE LEGO MOVIE, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, singer Ed Shereen and Master Builder Lego employee Jamie Berard) and could do with more.  Whenever one appears, the film brightens up.

    THE LEGO BRICKUMENTARY should enlighten non fans and delight fans of Lego.  And the film with a free flowing narrative has the appropriate message: “It is important not to take life too seriously”.

    Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGC1ZoZzJ4c

    MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE ROGUE NATION (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

    The fifth instalment of the successful TV series MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE delivers very much of the same.  So, fans should not be disappointed.  The only difference in this film is the emphasis on the importance of friends.  Never let friends down, as in evident in the way the characters stick out for each other.

    The film is strictly formulaic beginning with a James Bond style action sequence that has nothing to do with the plot of the rest of the film.  Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is hanging on to the door of an airplane that is taking off as in the words of chief of the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) chief, Brandt (Jeremy Renner): “The parcel is on the plane”.  The sequence, no complaint here, is exciting, stylist and fast ending with the parcel successfully taken off the plane, though with Ethan on parachute.

    The premise of the story is the formation of the Syndicate (the bad guys) made up of a multinational group of ex-operatives.  The Syndicate is the opposite of the IMF and Hunt has to destroy it before the British prime Minster (a welcome return of Tom Hollander) is assassinated.  

    At the same time, the IMF is denounced by an incoming CIA chief (Alec Baldwin) who wants to disband the force.  IMF operative Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) along with Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Benji (Simon Pegg) square off against the Syndicate to the very end.  The villain in all this is Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).  Hunt’s female interest takes the form of Ilsa Faust (Rebeca Ferguson) who one is never sure whose side she is on.

    The distinction between the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE films and the other action blockbusters is style.  Tom Cruise has plenty of it and director Christopher McQuarrie (he also made the Cruise action flick JACK REACHER) knows how to dish it out.

    The actors appear to be winging the dialogue in the script.  In one scene, Ilsa tells Hunt: “I give you 3 choices.”  After two are discarded, Hunt says; “I’ll take the 3rd option.”  In English, three choices means choosing three times, not choosing between one of three options.  Tom Cruise answers correctly to choose the third option, not the third choice.

    The film contains two Hitchcock nods, which film buffs would be pleased to note.  One is the famous PSYCHO scene in which a knife rips through a curtain and the other when an assassination takes place during a high point during the orchestra performance (as in THE 39 STEPS).

    The style takes place in the form of Lalo Schrifin’s theme song heard during the action sequences, the slick action fights, the wardrobe (one scene with Faust in gorgeous bright yellow gown with high slit on the side), motorcycle chases, camera shots and quick editing.

    There is hardly any story in the film, or any plot twists.  But M.I. fans are not interested in plot or character development- just fast action, TOP GUN Cruise style.  That this film delivers.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOW_azQbOjw

    VACATION (USA 2015) **
    Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein

    It has been 1983 since the Griswolds visited Walley World in San Francisco.  Those were Clark and Ellen Griswold played by Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo.  Now, 30 years later, their son, Rusty (Ed Helms) continues the family tradition by repeating the cross-country drive from Chicago to the theme park, hopefully to bring the family closer together.

    This kind of comedy falls into the category of the ‘uncomfortable comedy’ in which the audience is supposed to laugh at the misfortunes of the characters.  Comedies such as  THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS, THE HANGOVER and other VACATION films fall into this category.  The trick is to keep the humour and not let the mishaps occur without any laughs, a fault that THE HANGOVER II fell deeply into.  In that case, mishap after mishap occur and the poor characters go through hell without any laughs generated and the audience feeling uncomfortable.  Fortunately, VACATION keeps the laughs coming, though the hit and miss ratio is quite low, aided by the fact that the characters are all likeable - husband, wife and kids, besides being a family that most of the audience can relate to.

    It is good that the script allows the female to be funny as well and not just there as the  straight act.  Christina Applegate gets to demonstrate her comedic skills as Debbie Do-Anything in a fraternity re-visit when she disastrously attempts to redo her early obstacle drunk course.  To the surprise of her husband and two sons, she pukes and gets knocked all about in one of the film’s funnier scenes.

    The two children James (Skyler Gisondo) and younger Kevin (Steele Stebbins) also have significant parts.  Nice take on the younger one being the bully.

    Though it is good to see Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo reprise their Griswold roles, they do not have much to do but stand around.  Chris Hemsworth is surprisingly hilarious as hunk, Stone Crandall with the very big package that is finally revealed in all its glory during the end credits.  So stay for it!

    Besides the package joke, the film contains a fair number of off-coloured jokes for a family film.  The one about ‘rimming’ should have been discarded as it neither funny nor is it in good taste.

    The script’s concentration on the couple’s sex life and the faithfulness of the husband is a tiresome retread journey down an already too familiar road.  The film also lacks a good surprise ending.  

    But credit should be given to actors Helms and Applegate for trying their hardest in a film with a script that is barely funny.  They do work their best and the material works in their favour.  At times!

    But the two directors and writers, Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo cannot save this VACATION.  At best, the jokes are sporadic.  No wonder National Lampoon took its name off the title.  And most of the jokes were already seen during the various trailers.  VACATION ends up as an unsuccessful attempt at rejuvenating the series of National Lampoon vacation films.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScMOyURq9os

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: BEST OF ENEMIES

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documentary: AMY

    Best Action: ANT-MAN

    Best Foreign: A HARD DAY (South Korea)

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

    Best Western: SLOW WEST

  • TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Technicolour

    TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Dreaming in Technicolour (PART 1)

    Technicolor is a colour motion picture process invented in 1916 and then improved over several decades. It first started with two colour Technicolour followed by 3-strip Technicolour and then a dye transfer process. The latter process was also used to restore films like THE WIZARD OF OZ, APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX and REAR WINDOW, all three of which will be screened in this series.

    Other films that initially utilized the colour process include melodramas like ALL THAT HEAVEN KNOWS and epics like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Needless to say, the best way to experience Tehnicolour is to experience it on the big screen.

    For a complete listing of films in this series, for ticket pricing and venue, please check the TIFF website at tiff.net

    TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Dreaming in Technicolour

    ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (USA 1955) **
    Directed by Douglas Sirk

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    Melodramatic Douglas Sirk takes his movie full tilt with the story of widow Cary Scott’s (Jane Wyman) love affair with younger hunk, Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson). They romance is looked down upon by not only her grown-up children but by her social circle.  The film is full of colour (the car, for example that Ron drives is in three colours) which makes it one of the perfect films to showcase the Technicolour process in this film series. The snow that falls in the film is artificial as can be seen flicked away from the clothes long after the characters have been in the room long after. But the script by Peg Senwick leaves much to be desired. It is predictable, ucorny and at times unbelievable over-the-top. The lack of chemistry between Hudson (whom everyone knows is gay now but not then) and Wyman does not help either. Their two characters fall in love after a few meetings and begin awkward kisses. But the worst is the film’s last segment that turns a happy ending to more melodrama.

    (Screening June 30)

    BLACK NARCISSUS (UK 1947) ****

    Directed by Michale Power and Emeric Pressburger

    Based on the novel of the same name, BLACK NARCISSUS refers to the name of the perfume worn by  the young general (Sabu) while attending one of his classes at the convent/school.  The film is a religious drama shot in glorious Technicolour by Jack Cardfiff (as the opening credits proclaim).  True, the film is extremely colourful from the costumes, flowers and scenery despite the fact that the film was shot at Pinewood Studios and not in the Himalayas.  The story involves the nuns led by Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) setting up of a school and hospital up in a remote location in the Himalayas (the Palace of Mopu, near Darjeeling) for the local people, only to find themselves increasingly seduced by the sensuality of their surroundings in a converted seraglio high up in the mountains.   It does not help that the local British agent Mr Dean (David Farrar), always in shorts, arouses the sexuality of both Clodagh and Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron).  Lots of good British drama and dialogue despite the staged look of the film.

    (Screening July 7)

    BONNIE AND CLYDE (USA 1967) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Arthur Penn

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    A landmark gangster film in many ways from the violence to its sex and nudity! The film begins with the meeting of Bonne Parker (Faye Dunaway) with bank robber Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) as she spots him while naked trying to steal her mother’s car. From then on, it is one hell ride for the audience with director Penn glamorizing the lifestyle of BONNIE AND CLYDE. The film is very stylish and the performances more than excellent, garnishing all four leads Academy Award nominations in the acting categories. Estelle Parsons won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the immensely irritating screaming wife and sister-in-law of Clyde Barrow. This highly successfully film made stars of all the leads including Michael J. Pollard as C.W. Moss the not too bright driver who parks the getaway car during one bank robbery. The film also contains a very touching scene between Bonnie’s mother and her. The depression era is stunningly captured on film with Burnett Guffery winning the Oscar for Best Cinematography. BONNIE AND CLYDE is highly enjoyable, perfectly directed and a film to be viewed again and again.

    (Screening June 23)

    THE FOUR FEATHERS (UK 1939) ****

    Directed by Zoltan Korda 

    This 1939 adaptation of the venerable novel by A.E.W. Mason, directed by Zoltan Korda and produced by bother Alexander is considered the best of all The Four Feathers films.  Shot in glorious Technicolour, the film features spectacular battles between the British forces and the natives in Sudan on camels and horses.  The spectacle is matched only by the human drama that makes the film even more interesting.  In the midst of all the troubles, upper-class non-conformist Harry Faversham (John Clements) resigns his commission and is promptly accused of cowardice by his friends and fiancée.  Determined to discover his true cowardice or courage for himself, Faversham travels to North Africa incognito, adopts the disguise of a native slave, and plunges into the centre of battle. Sir Ralph Richardson is memorable as one of Harry’s friends, John who grows blind from sunstroke while on duty and is heroically rescued by Harry.  The dialogue is all so camp despite the serious subject of heroism and cowardice.  

    (Screening Aug 13)

    THE GODFATHER (USA 1970) ***** TOP 10

    Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

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    The original Best Picture Oscar winner that spurned two critically acclaimed and box-office successful sequels Parts I and II still stands at the best of the three. Based on the novel and co-written by Mario Puzo, this is the epic story of the Corleone Mafia clan, its troubles and how it finally manages to stay on top by extremely violent means. The film opens with the wedding of the Godfather’s (Marlon Brando) daughter’s (Talia Shire) wedding. As the Don is being greeted by various ‘guests’ requesting favours (See Image), Coppola’s film cuts to the celebrations in which many things are going on in between the lines or images. The sons are introduced from hot-tempered Sonny (James Caan), adopted Tom Hagan (Robert Duvall) to eldest Alfredo (John Cazale) to the favourite youngest Michael (Al Pacino) who will eventually inherit the position of Godfather. The film is scattered with violent killings from strangulation, knifing, gunning to the beheading of a horse. The ending is a brilliant intercutting of the assassination of the 5 other family heads amidst the christening of Michael’s Christening of his Godson in which he denounces Satan and his deeds. Everything else about the film is near perfect including Nino Rota’s riveting score and Brando’s performance that won him the Oscar for Best Actor.

    (Screening Aug 2)

    GOOD MORNING (Japan 1959) ****

    Directed by Yasujiro Ozu

    GOOD MORNING ends with a very happy good morning where the greeting, uttered several times, affects the characters on the screen.  The setting of this feel-good observational piece, a comedy of manners, takes place in a Tokyo suburb.  The action weaves in and out of the tiny houses in the suburbs as the various characters carry out their daily routines.  Among them is Mrs. Hayashi, the treasurer, has has given the dues to the chairwoman, Mrs Haraguchi (Haruko Sugimura), who denies it.  But the story centres around two boys, attracted to a neighbour's house because they have a television set.  They pressure their mother into buying them a television set, but their mother refuses. Both end up going on a silence strike against all adults.  And their English tutor and aunt appear to be starting a fresh romance.  Ozu is fond of placing his camera still and has his characters move in and out of the frame.  And it has the feel of the audience as voyeurs observing the neighbourhood.

    (Screening: Aug 9)

    LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (UK 1962) Top 10 *****
    Directed by David Lean

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    If the term sprawling epic was conned, it would likely have its source from David Lean’s 7-Oscar winning LAWRENCE OF ARABIA including Best Picture. The film begins with T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) dead from a motorbike accident and flashes back to the times when he was a British soldier ending up uniting the Arab tribes against the Turks. The image of a dot in the desert sands evolving into a rider on a horse, the sandstorms and stunning desert landscapes won Freddie Young the Oscar fro Best Cinematography. The sound like the echoes bouncing off the desert mountains also won the film an Oscar for Best Sound. The additional bonus is Maurice Jarre’s haunting score. Almost everything is perfect in this film including the Oscar nominated script by Robert Bolt. The running time of 200 plus minutes passes really fast. This is the film that made O’Toole an instant star. An impeccable film from start to finish in glorious Technicolour.

    Trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1481310233/

    (Screening Jun 20)

    REAR WINDOW (USA 1954) ***** TOP 10

    Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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    Based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich (Hitchcock claims that the best movies are based on simple stories), REAR WINDOW has a simple premise. A news photographer, L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) has broken his leg on a job.  He has another week in his cast and spends his days looking out his apartment’s REAR WINDOW spying at the goings-on of his neighbours. L.B.’s world has been reduced to what he can see through that window.

    L.B. notices various neighbours, Miss Lonelyhearts (Judith Evelyn), looking desperately for a beau, a newly married couple, a songwriter (Ross Bagdasarian) and a salesman, Lars Thorfeld (Raymond Burr) looking after his invalid wife. When the salesman acts suspicious, like taking various suitcases out of the apartment at various times in the morning with the wife not being in view, L.B. suspects murder. He gets his nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter) and fashion designer girlfriend, Lisa Freemont (Grace Kelly) to become his aids to prove that a murder has taken place.

    Hitchcock’s film works on various levels. There is a romantic comedy in all this. When the two highly different personalities finally have a common goal of solving the murder case, love blooms. There is also a subplot involving two other romances.

    Hitchcock has proven and especially in this film that he is indeed the Master of Suspense. Hitchcock gets the audience right into Stewart’s point of view, looking through his binoculars as Kelly sneaks into the murderer’s apartment just as he is returning to catch her there. His camera shots of the murderer tossing L.B. out of the window as he falls is perfect suspense generation. When Stewart is watching the apartment of the killer, the other subplot of Miss Lonelyhearts about to take sleeping pills keeps the audience anticipation high.

    The film is also full of humour, especially at the film’s start on the subject of spying on the neighbours. The repertoire between Ritter and Stewart is hilarious. The massage she gives him also looks really effective, courtesy of Hitchcock insisting on perfection of his scenes.

    REAR WINDOW can be enjoyed on multiple viewings. This is more that my 5th viewing and there is always more to enjoy that could have been missed.

    Flaws? I wondered initially at the film’s climatic segment when the killer entered L.B.’s apartment with the door unlocked. Why did L.B. leave the door unlocked when he knew the killer was about to come in?. Upon reflection, the answer was rather obvious, as L.B. was in a cast and cannot reach the lock of the front door. Why then did he leave the door unlocked? The reason would be to let both the nurse, Stella and Lisa in without having to make too many temporary spare keys.

    REAR WINDOW also gives a new meaning to the word flash photography. REAR WINDOW though dated (the use of land lines and no cell phones; lcm of air-conditioning) still stands the test of time as one of the best suspense thrillers of all time.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kCcZCMYw38

    (Screening Jul 25)

    SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (USA 1952) ****

    Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly

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    Many has described SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN as the happiest musical of all time. In many ways this is true for the abs colourful musical sequences not to mention the famous dancing in the rain segment performed by Gene Kelly. But his co-star Donald O’Connor upstages him in his solo number “Make ‘Em Laugh” earlier on in the film. The mundane plot deals with the transition of a silent movie studio to sound. Gene Kelly plays movie star Don Lockwood and Debbie Reynolds plays his girlfriend Kathy. She stands in for Don’s talentless costar but famous actress Lina Lamont played by Jean Hagen. Never mind the sillyplot and romance, the musical is what this delightful film is all about. And it lives unto its title as the happiest musical of all time.

    (Screening June 19)

  • This Week's Film Reviews (July 24, 2015)

    Opening this week are PIXELS and PAPER TOWNS.  Smaller films opening include AMERICAN HEIST and the new Woody Allen comedy drama IRRATIONAL MAN.

    Do not miss the South Korean action comedy A HARD DAY,a surprise gem.

    FILM REVIEWS: 

    AMERICAN HEIST (USA 2014) ***

    Directed by Sarik Andreasyan

     

    Armenian director Sarik Andreasyan known for directing Russian films and for producing the English film THE DOUBLE makes his English language film debut with AMERICAN HEIST, an action thriller drama aided with some quirky performances by Hollywood stars.

    The film begins with James, with some scratches on his face leaving his car and walking in a covered parking garage.  What is happening here?  There are sounds of what might be an explosion.  Director Andreasyan supposed that this would arouse his audience’s curiosity and flashes back to a day earlier as to reveal the events that has led to this scene.  The scene is revisited in 30 minutes, a third into the movie.

    This is Andreasyan’s movie.  From what is seen so far, he does what he wants and what he thinks the audience feels or wants to see.  This might not be the case and what is presented on screen might not be perfect but his view is nevertheless exciting and a compelling watch at times.

    James (Hayden Christensen), a man with nothing to lose, owes his life to his older brother Frankie (Adrien Brody) after taking the rap for a crime they did together.  While Frankie served time, James worked to turn his life around.  He manages to get a job and begins courting with his girlfriend Emily (Jordana Brewster). Now, Frankie is released and back on the streets with no money and no place to go. They end up committing the AMERICAN HEIST of the film’s title.

    There is a confrontational segment between the two brothers that contains laughable dialogue but is executed so well (credit to both the camera work and to actors Brody and Christensen) that it works.

    The script is occasionally hilarious especially with Sugar (Akon), Frankie’s hood buddy revealing his view on the American dream and how he thinks every generation needs a revolution.  I take it Raul Inglis who wrote the script is writing in good fun and not dead serious in his politics.

    The actual heist takes place at the half point mark of the film and drags on for the last half of the movie.  The pacing is odd, with a fair chunk of time devoted to the brothers talking while a shoot-out is going on outside the bank.  The execution of the heist is over-the-top and unrealistic.  This includes a helicopter that is shot down with a portion stuck and dangling from a building.  It is neat-looking but there is no purpose for all this.

    The  sibling drama and the action of the heist do not blend at all.  Christensen is more believable than Brody who resorts to erratic gestures and street talk to inhabit his role.  There is little feeling for the brothers’ dilemma as there is little excitement in the action sequences.

    AMERICAN HEIST turns out to be a moderately $10 million budget Russian American coproducer curiosity piece which was also co-produced by Christensen.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QY_IOn0fsc0

    A HARD DAY (South Korea 2014) ****

    Directed by Kim Seong-hun

    South Korean’s latest addition to its list of excellent film exports arrives as an energetic crime action comedy A HARD DAY.  The film is more action than comedy with the events that transpire being unexpected, crazy and occasionally satirical.  The direct translation of its Korean title is TAKE IT TO THE END, which more accurately describes the intent of the film’s protagonist, homicide detective Ko Gun-su (Lee Sun-kyun).

    Homicide detective Ko Gun-su is as implied by the film’s title, having a hard day. His mother has just died and he and his colleagues are being investigated by the internal affairs over drugs and bribery charges. Then on his way to his mother's funeral, he drives recklessly and commits a fatal hit and run.  He covers up the accident by hiding the corpse in his deceased mother's coffin. But someone has been watching all along, and Gun-su gets a mysterious call from a person claiming that he was the sole witness to the crime, who now begins to blackmail him.

    The above premise is utilized to its full manic potential.  But the film is also full of suspenseful segments, most involving Det. Ko in a precarious situation when he is about to get caught for something or other.  Whatever can go wrong does for poor Det. Ko.  His cell phone is dropped into the coffin after he seals it.  The person blackmailing him turns out to be another Detective, Det. Park (Jo Jin-woong) from Internal Affairs who is more crooked than him.  A segment of their hand-to-hand no holds barred fight in a toilet is something right out of a looney-tunes cartoon - similar to the road rage segment in the recent Argentine/Spanish comedy WILD TALES.   Though Ko is not the perfect human being, corrupt and abusive, one always has sympathy for a fellow human being having a bad day.  The audience can relate.  Actor Lee portrays him as a likeable character which helps the audience to like the film.  

    Besides the flashes of inventiveness of the script, the camera work is impressively stunning and appropriate from its camera angles, continuity of the chases and especially the overhead crane shots that give the film a certain classy look.  The plot contains twists at every corner that keeps the audience executed and at the edge of their seats from start to end.  Credibility might be pushed a bit, but who cares as the film is entertaining enough.

    A HARD DAY is a surprisingly well directed, written, shot and acted action comedy that is the perfect entertainment for anyone, especially one having a hard day.

    A HARD DAY won stellar reviews at Cannes 2014 and went on to win its director many Best Director award including one from the Korean Association of Film Critics.  The film looks to be picked up for a Hollywood remake.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pG8iJa4dYPc

    IRRATIONAL MAN (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Woody Allen

    After his ‘European tour’, Woody Allen returns to the U.S. with his latest film, on one of his favourite subjects - murder.  Allen has entertained this theme in films like MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY and in his hugely successful come-back film MATCH POINT.  IRRATIONAL MAN unites Joaquin Phoenix (last seen brooding in INHERENT VICE) and Allen in a welcome collaboration with Phoenix in yet another brooding anti-hero character.

    At the small-town fictitious college campus of Braylin (film shot at Salve Regina University in newport), philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) finds himself in an existential crisis, as in many the typical Allen protagonist. He discovers a new purpose in life when he discovers an opportunity to murder an evil judge.  He figures the world will be a better place without the man.  And this purpose rejuvenates his life.  He is able to have sex again, eat better and gains a purpose in life.  He carries out the deed.  At the same time, he enters into a relationship with Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), one of his students.  But Jill, initially impressed by Lucas’ philosophy of life, turns disgusted when she discovers his deed.

    This is Allen’s most controlled film in terms of comedy.  There are funny moments, without doubt, and at times, it seems that a comedy is about to burst out of this mystery drama.   The comedy occurs mostly early in the film and particularly during Abe’s philosophy lectures.  He calls his bullshit philosophy verbal masturbation.  This is typical Allen writing.  The film is a murder, the anatomy of the murder with philosophical musings, Allen style that turns a bit absurd as the only too philosophical professor turns irrational.  The last segment has a serious confrontational scene that would have worked if it did not turn funny.  But funny it turned out, not because the scene was meant to be or is intrinsic funny, but the build up to this point just appeared silly.

    The film contains a very weird horse riding segment.  One can never be sure, but it could be Allen putting that ridiculous bit in for his own pure amusement.

    IRRATIONAL MAN has a smaller stellar cast than most of his other films.  Parker Posey is the only other well known name in it.

    IRRATIONAL MAN begins slowly, keeps the slow pace in the plot building and accelerates towards the themes of murder and desperation.  But the ending is too abrupt for such a careful build up.

    IRRATIONAL MAN has one of the most interesting premises in a while.  A human being who believes in his philosophy, carries it out, only to find that those he cares for do not allow him to live with his beliefs.  He breaks down and destroys everything he believes in, including the ones he loves.  Unfortunately the film turns out just as its premise.  The premise is destroyed in its execution.  Still, a new Woody Allen film is still intriguing, failure or not, and is still a better view than most films playing currently.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hP8mPkyBntw

    PIXELS (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Chris Columbus

    PIXELS is so stupid, it is funny.  But be forewarned!  The humour is right up the alley of Adam Sandler’s comedies like GROWN UPS and HAPPY GILMORE.  So if infantile humour is not your cup of tea, stay away.  But at least we are spared the toilet humour.  There is surprisingly none here.  Donkey Kong does not take a dump nor does Pac Man throw up.

    The film begins in the 80’s when as kids, Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), Will Cooper (Kevin James), Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), and Eddie "The Fire Blaster" Plant (Peter Dinklage) save the world thousands of times - at a quarter game in the video arcades.   At an arcade super competition, a video feed of arcade games is sent into outer space. 

    The film shifts to the present to the odd place of Yigu in Guam where a U.S. military base is attacked.   What has happened is that the aliens have misinterpreted the video feed as a declaration of war.  They attack the Earth, using the video games as the models for their assaults.  So now the grownup kids must use their video skills to save the world from being destroyed by PAC-MAN, Donkey Kong, Galaga, Centipede, and Space Invaders.

    The film contains surprise cameos by Dan Akroyd, Serena Williams, Martha Stewart and TV spots by Madonna and Ricardo Montalban.  But the film is careless in its accuracy.  How would the aliens know about TV celebrities?  But who really cares as this is, after all a Sandler comedy.

    So silly, that the Centipede is demolishing an apartment while a grandmother is unknowingly doing aerobics in front of a fitness video.  Or when Sam Brenner claims that the M.I.T. he attended is the Mississippi Institute of Technology.

    The first third of the film is simply hilarious.  The script contains neat surprises.  The first is when Sam, with the job of a home theatre installer hits on one of his clients, Violet (Michelle Monahan).  They end up driving off together, insulting each other because she spurns him.  They end up at the Oval Office, because he is called for a visit by his friend Will Cooper who is revealed as the President of the United States.  And Violet turns out to be a Lt. Col in charge of Defence.  The last third is mostly action and special effects with the arcade monsters destroying New York City.

    Sandler surprisingly plays the straight man in the movie.  But this does not stop him from hurling insults at the band of misfits at the conference in the Oval Office (the film’s funniest segment).  The other best segment has Josh Gad as Ludlow hurl abuse at the bulked military FULL METAL JACKET style during a briefing session.  Peter Dinklage is unexpectedly funny, while Kevin James does a good progression from Mall Cop to President of the U.S.  

    I cannot understand why the comedy only garnered a 9% (at the time of writing) on Rotten Tomatoes.  It is hilarious with more than sufficient laugh-out laughs, stunning in terms of its pixels computer animated effects with a decent story line that includes a neatly inserted romance between Sam and Lt. Col Violet Van Patten.  And as already mentioned, it is so stupidly funny.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAHprLW48no

    UNEXPECTED (USA 2015) **
    Directed by Kris Swanberg

    UNEXPECTED is about unexpected pregnancies - two of them.  The two, a woman Samantha Abbott (Cobie Smulders) teacher and her student, Jasmine (Gail Bean) become friends and deal with the situation.  Director Kris Swanberg is reported to also be pregnant at this time.

    It is difficult not to like a film that have sweet moment such as these: Samantha encourages her Chicago class that every one should strive to go to college; John (Anders Holm) proposes to Samantha after the announcement of the pregnancy with an engagement ring on the pancakes.

    And then there is the sympathy bit: Samantha gets sick in front of her class; Jasmine, the other girl who gets pregnant is black.

    As expected, UNEXPECTED is a woman’s film.   Nothing wrong with that, but it falls into the trap of underwritten male roles.  Jasmine’s boyfriend in her words, gets drunk all the time and needs to grow up.  Samantha, on the other hand, has John totally under her thumb.  Her every wish is his to grant.  He is only too pleased to paint the new baby’s room.  When they have an argument, he hits all the wrong notes.  When the announcements in the school for the college admissions, the girls’ names get announced first.  And no need to guess the gender of Samantha’s baby.

    The father figure in both Sam’s and Jasmine’s families are missing.  Only the mothers are present.  Sam’s mother (Elizabeth McGovern) is portrayed as judgemental and over bearing, but the truth is that her reactions are understandable.

    The problem that Jasmine faces about not getting housing at her prospective college is predictable and more predictable that she blames the caring Sam.  But audiences need not worry, as there is a tacked on happy ending.  The film includes a subplot involving the closing of Samantha’s school.  The students protest.  The school is eventually closed.

    Though UNEXPECTED hits the topic of pregnancy head on with segments like the discovery, the ultra-sound, the worries and of course the birth, which forms the climax, Swanberg’s film is earnest but contains nothing really new or exciting.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzq7dfZn31k

     

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: A HARD DAY

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documentary: AMY

    Best Action: ANT-MAN

    Best Foreign: A HARD DAY (South Korea)

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

    Best Western: SLOW WEST

  • TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Summer in Italy

    TIFF Cinematheque Presents - SUMMER IN ITALY

    The Summer in Italy series begins June 27 and goes on to August.  A MUST for all cineastes as the series includes both hidden gems and restored versions of classic Italian films.  This series goes on simultaneously with the Vittorio Se Sica series of films, also featured in an article on this website.

    (The is due to time restrictions of the reviewer in viewing all the films.)

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    The following, James Quandt’s (programmer’s essay) piece (IN ITALICS) is reproduced from tiff.net

    which provides the perfect description of the SUMMER IN ITALY series.

    TIFF Cinematheque marks a quarter-century with a stupendo season of Italian classics, which provides symmetry with the complete Pier Paolo Pasolini retrospective with which the Cinematheque launched in the summer of 1990. Several perennial favourites are included (it seems we can't let a year go by without showing Sandra), but several important films which have never graced our screen(s) also receive Cinematheque premieres — most notably the silent spectacular Cabiria, a font for much cinema that followed. The list of featured directors to whom we have dedicated retrospectives over the years is formidable — Antonioni, Germi, Rosi, Olmi, Visconti, Rossellini, Fellini, Petri, Bertolucci, and (this very season) De Sica — but the series also reminds us of those we have yet to do, particularly the great Alberto Lattuada. (Pasolini has reluctantly been excluded, strictly because we have presented not one but two complete retrospectives of his films in the last five years.)

    Given the immense scope of this season's Italian programming, it's perhaps inevitable that motifs emerge: World War II and its aftermath; the moral turmoil resulting from the postwar economic boom; the traumas of childhood. Sometimes films line up in thematic pairs: compare, for instance, the intertwining of Nazism/Fascism, incest, and suppressed memory in Sandra and The Condemned of Altona; the Biblical compression of time and harsh portraits of Rome in Il Bidone and Bicycle Thieves; the double roles, one comic, one tragic, that Vittorio De Sica plays in Signor Max and General della Rovere; and the mirrored portraits of moral drifters in the Eternal City in La Dolce Vita and The Passionate Thief. The season is also rich with comedies — "white telephone" farces, classics of commedia all'italiana, and caustic satires of a resurgent postwar Italy reeling from the materialistic excesses of le boom — featuring the likes of Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Totò, Vittorio Gassman, and Alberto Sordi. (It might be invidious to single out any one of these divine comedies, but miss Il Sorpasso at risk of cinephilic excommunication.)

    Whether hilarity or severity is your pleasure, our summer season offers many sublime viaggi in Italia. Avanti!

    — James Quandt

    For complete film listing, ticket pricing and venue of this series, please check the TIFF website at:

    tiff.net

    SUMMER IN ITALY trailer:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OB5cCOkfr_s

    CAPSULE REVIEWS FOR SELECTED FILMS:

    AMARCORD (Italy/France 1974) ****

    Directed by Federico Fellini

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    AMARCORD as well as 81/2 establishes the great late Italian director’s love for the seaside. The Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film in 1975, AMARCORD (I REMEMBER), set in the seaside village of Rimini during Mussolini’s reign is loosely based on his own childhood memories. The film follows the travails of the Biondi family, particularly the antics of the young son, Aurelio (Armando Brancia) who often gets into mischief from choking from the sweet seller’s (Maria Antonietta Beluzzi) naked breasts to peeing on a fellow cinema patron’s bowler hat. The film is sweet and funny despite its fart and rude jokes. The cinematography is nothing short of magnificent and the musical score by Nino Rota comprising of old tunes aids the nostalgic mood. A film that can be seen countless times (this is my 5th viewing) without losing it freshness and entertainment.

    (Screening Jun 30)

    IL BIDONE (THE SWINDLER) (Italy/France 1955) ***1/2

    Directed by Federico Fellini

    Early Fellini! If Fellini’s LA DOLCE VITA celebrates life in all its exuberance, his earlier film IL BIDONE is the complete antithesis.  The film follows the exploits of a group of swindlers, focusing on their aging leader Augusto (Broderick Crawford), as they go about their "business," reaping both rewards and consequences.   The film feels like short stories put together as the various scams are largely unconnected.  As soon as soon as Fellini allows he audience some sympathy for Augusto, he pulls the plug by showing the man’s other side - in which he revealed as a true swindler with no morals whosoever.  Fellini’s wife, Giuliette Masina has a supporting role as poor Iris while composer Nino Rota adds to the musical score.  Shown in a restored 35mm print.

    (Screening: Aug 7)

    BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET (I Soliti Ignoti) (Italy 1958) ****
    Directed by Mario Monicelli

    Director Mario Monicelli’s very funny crime caper comedy that inspired Woody Allen’s SMALL TIME CROOKS features an all-star cast of at that time relative unknowns that includes Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Renato Salvatroi, Vittorio Gassman and Toto as the safe expert.  It all begins when a petty car thief, Cosmo is arrested.  His girlfriend and former accomplices look for someone to take the rap.  They all form a gang instead, intent to break into the office of a pawnshop to crack the safe.  The gang of misfits, if not fighting among themselves are getting themselves into other trouble.  It does not help that the robbery info comes from Cosmo in jail, hearing it from a fellow inmate.  The film is very Italian, with the characters, all out of work lower class embracing the poverty, petty thefts and desperation of the times.  The humour is fast, furious and original and there is no shortage of laugh-out loud moments.  The film spawned two sequels and a French remake CRACKERS by Louis Malle.

    (Screening Aug 20)

    FELLINI SATYRICON (Italy 1969) ****

    Directed by Federico Fellini

    satyriconba

    FELLINI SARYRICON, set in 1st Century Rome and based on the written work of Petronius during the reign of Emperor Nero is more Fellini’s imagination than anything else. Fascinated by the gaps in Petronius’ lost work, Fellini conjures up an ancient adult piece that is more shocking than anything else. The film follows the adventures of Encolpio (Martin Potter) hunting and losing and finding the love of his life, a sweet boy who can deliver the sweetest of nights. Encolpio’s best friend Ascilto (Hiram Keller) has stolen Gitone (Max Born) from him. A wrestling match ensues and Encolpio learns that Gitone has been sold to actor Verbacchio (Fanfulla). A series of adventures occur which takes the audience trough the decadence, excesses and ugliness of the times. Though difficult to take in, in parts SATYRICON is nevertheless breathtaking, never boring and a feast (though not always nice) to the eyes. And SATYRICON is most homoerotic film I have ever seen even to this day!

    (Screening Aug 20)

    THE FIANCES (I fidanzati) (Italy 1063) ***
    Directed by Ermanno Olmi

    fiancesba

    Shot in black and white, THE FIANCES is neo-realistic romantic drama of a simple couple aiming for a better life. The trouble is that the idea of a better life is different for the man as it is for the woman. The man, a welder in Milan wants to make more money by taking a temporary job south while his fiance wants to be wed with him staying. He leaves anyway only to find the la dolce vita is not what he expected. Rents are high, there is nothing to do and he misses her. They communicate by writing and the occasional long-distance call. Olmi’s actors are imperfect creatures, not only in looks but in behaviour and aspirations. As such, there is a quality of charm they radiate, which helps the audience connect and feel for them. Olmi’s fondness of using flashbacks can be a bit confusing at times, for example in the case of whether the man has remained faithful to his fiance. Still, this is an impressive work of neo-realistic Italian cinema.

    (Screening Jul 18)

    THE LEOPARD (IL GATTOPARDO) (Italy 1963) ****
    Directed by Luchino Visconti

    Luchino Visconti’s period drama based on the novel Il Gattopardo, is a handsomely mounted piece complete with gorgeous settings and music by Nino Rota.  The grand wedding ball at the end of the film is unforgettable and beautifully shot complete with dance, decor and gowns.  The film is odd with American Burt Lancaster playing the title role of Don Fabrizio, the Prince of Salina (his Italian dialogue dubbed in) and Alain Delon playing his handsome nephew.  Italians in the cast include Claudia Cardinale and Terence Hill.  Lancaster was chosen by the studio to provide star power for the expensive production.  The film was a hit in France, thanks patly to Delon.  The drama sees the change of times as the Lancaster character holds on to his power and wealth while playing politics cautiously.  The wealth of the Prince is on wide and shameless display while the poor suffer.  Visconti’s film is nevr dull and filled with subtle humour.  A great classic!

    (Screening Aug 8)

    MAFIOSO (Italy 1962) ****

    Directed by Alberto Lattuada

    A comedy of social errors, MAFIOSO tells the tale of a super efficient and good natured factory Milan supervisor, Antonio (Alberto Sordi) who takes a long needed vacation with his wife and two daughters back to his native Sicily.  His boss at the factory insists he delivers a gift to Don Vincenzo (Ugo Attanasio), which he does successfully.  But things take a turn when he is obliged to do the Don a very odd favour.  He is put in a crate, flown to New York to assassinate an enemy.  The comedy takes the form of his love for Sicily, his Sicilian family, the land as well as his beautiful city wife who takes a while to finally adapt to the village life.  It is a beautifully top tale full of humour, insight as well as horror.  But thank God, everything turns out well at the end and all have become more experienced as well as the audience.

    (Screening Aug 15)

    THE RED DESERT (IL DESERTO ROSSO) (Italy/France 1964) ***
    Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

    Antonioni’s very depressing film about a desolate character in a desolated landscape.  Guiliana (Monica Vitti) is the mentally disturbed (after an accident) wife of plant manager, Ugo (Carlo Chionetti), responsible for the pollution of Ravenna with its toxic waste destroying the sea and surroundings.  The place is cold, grey with fog blocking out the sun.  The film has toxic yellow smoke front he factories bellowing into the sky throughout its length.  Guiliana meets an engineer, Zeller (Richard Harris) who makes sexual advances towards her.  All the goings-on are weird especially the one segment involving Guiliana, her husband and friends playing sexual games in an abandoned shack.  Guiliana has a boy, who fakes having polio in another weird sequence.  The film has been praised for the director’s outlook on lifestyle and the environment.  But Carlo Di Palma’s cinematography of toxic waste is definitely stunning on camera.

    (Screening July 25)

    ROME OPEN CITY (Italy 1946) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Roberto Rossellini

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    Rossellini’s ROME - OPEN CITY follows Italian resistance fighters and workers as they struggle through hardship and tyranny to etch out a barely decent daily living with their families while just putting enough food on the table. If not fighting the enemy, the Italians are humorously screaming among themselves. The film centres on expecting Pina (Anna Magnani), a widow with son, Marcello about to be married again. Rossellini captures the essence of war in the details and warmth of the characters. A fly can be seen on the priest’s cloak while dust is plentiful after the bombings. The priest is seen playing football with the school children, then passing messages to the underground and also giving confession to those requiring forgiveness. A very moving film made even more riveting with the famous segment of the pregnant Anna Magnani shot by the Germans as she runs from the three-tonner. This is a must-see, one of the best war films made during war time.

    (Screening Jun 27)

    IL SORPASSO (Italy 1962) ***
    Directed by Dino Risi

    IL SORPASSO (Italy 1962) ***
    Directed by Dino Risi

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    IL SORPASSO (THE EASY LIFE) directed by Dino Risi (VIVA ITALIA!, MARCH ON ROME) and co-written by him, Ettore Scola and Ruggero Maccari is a free flowing Italian road movie. On a summer's day in Rome, Roberto Mariani (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a withdrawn quiet law scholar, encounters Bruno Cortona (Vittorio Gassman), a middle-aged boisterous man driving a stylish convertible sports car. Roberto tags along with Bruno and one thing leads to another with the two ending up spending two full days and nights with each other. Through many comic encounters that include meeting Bruno’s daughter, Lilli (Catherine Spaak) and revisiting Roberto’s old farmhouse, Roberto learns how to enjoy the carefree life for a change. And Bruno finally grows up at the end of the film. Though the Bruno character is really annoying, and a road hog at heart, the film slags whenever Gassman is not on screen.

    (Screening Jul 3)

  • This Week's Film Reviews (July 17, 2015)

    Opening this week are ANT-MAN and TRAINWRECK.  Smaller films opening include JIMMY’S HALL and a transgender comedy TWO 4 ONE.

    FILM REVIEWS: 

    ANT-MAN (USA 2015) ****
    Directed by Peyton Reed

    In the 12th instalment of the Disney/Marvel collaboration, ANT-MAN is seen on the screen for the first time and a sort of super anti-hero.

    Armed with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, master thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) must embrace his inner-hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), protect the secret behind his spectacular Ant-Man suit from a new generation of towering threats.  Against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Pym and Lang must plan and pull off a heist that will save the world. 

    The characters are all developed.  The secret side of the thief Lang reveals a good man (the film’s message is embedded in this character) caught dong wrong.  Michael Douglas’ Dr. Pyn character surprises from the scene when he pulls, literally the first punch.  There is also a little romance between Lang and Dr. Pyn’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly) that is played mainly for laughs.

    ANT-MAN has 3 major and many minor things going for it.  The first two are the writers.  Edgar Write of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and Joe Cornish from ATTACK THE BLOCK both ensure a script that is hilariously funny, original and explosively exciting.  The film is also co-scripted by Paul Rudd, Stan Lee and Adam McKay.  Even the silly subplots like Lang’s connection to his daughter and problem with his estranged wife (Judy Greer) an new beau (Bobby Carnnavale) work effortlessly to amuse.  The third major factor, Paul Rudd playing ANT-MAN guarantees a different super-hero, one that is reluctant, funny and also sexy.  Rudd has developed quite the 6-pack body since his last movie.  Then there are the minor additions that make the film unforgettable.  This is Michael Douglas’ best (since playing Liberace in BEHIND THE CANDELABRA) and funniest role as Dr. Hank Pym.  It is also Michael Cena’s best role.  Cena has mostly been seen in serious dramas like MILLION DOLLAR BABY, END OF WATCH and GANGSTER SQUAD.  But his supporting role as Lang’s cell mate and member of his heist team generates laugh-out loud laughs in almost very scene he appears, even the one where he falls asleep.

    An additional bonus is the film’s parody other Marvel films.  The film pokes fun at IRONMAN as Ironman also dons a special costume.  There are also cameos from Anthony Mackie as Falcon and an uncredited Chris Evans as Captain America.

    The action scenes that involve lots of CGI as ANT-MAN fights accompanied with hundred of different ant species are spectacular as well as stunning to look at.

    ANT-MAN is terrible smart, too funny and entertaining to the tilt.  I have not heard an audience applaud and cheer that loud this year at a promo-screening.  Highly Recommended!

    ANT-MAN is the funniest Marvel super-hero film made by Marvel/Disney so far.  ANT-MAN is a minor Marvel super-hero, that many (like myself) have not heard of before.  The clip at the end credits prime the audience to loud cheers of an upcoming sequel.  This minor super hero that many have never heard of before is going to become a major Marvel super-hero.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWdKf3MneyI

    JIMMY’S HALL (Ireland/UK/France 2014) ***1/2

    Directed by Ken Loach

    Known for his social political films (KES being his best film, SWEET SIXTEEN and MY NAME IS JOE, RIFF-RAFF and LADYBIRD, LADYBIRD being my favourites and THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY his Cannes Palme d’Or Winner), JIMMY’S HALL is yet another of the veteran director’s offering in the same vein.  It is a period piece set in the 20’s and 30’s when Irishman Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) built a dance hall, only to be condemned a communist and traitor and banished to leave his birth country.  The story is loosely based on true events.

    The film begins with a titled commentary informing the audience of the film’s setting and its state of affairs.  The time is the early 30’s and Jimmy Gralton has just returned to his county of Leitrim in Ireland from New York City.  Not much had been said about his past but that he was a bit of a troublemaker.  So, the audience is primed for some troublemaking.  This trouble takes the place in Jimmy’s re-opening of the old Pearse-Connolly Hall, a place where the youth (and older too) could come in to learn, socialize and mainly dance.  Th film contains a few early forms of Riverdancing.

    With 15-minutes of flashback, the history is revealed when the hall was first opened and grew in popularity with its socialist and free-spirited reputation bringing it to the attention of the church and politicians who forced Jimmy to flee and the hall to close.  Now history is about to repeat itself.

    It is a simple story that occurs twice in the film - starting and closing of the hall and extradition of Jimmy Gralton.  But it is not the story but the characters that matter.  Though Jimmy is supposed to be politically communist, his political views are largely lightened in the film.

    The film’s two most interesting characters are Jimmy’s mother (Francis Magee) and Father Sheridan (Jim Norton).  The script allows Jimmy’s mother her say, and she does have her full say in a newspaper article where she voices her thoughts.  One cannot help but root for a mother who loves her son, above everything else.  Father Sheridan, despite being the main instigator against Gralton’s endeavours, is shown with some compassion.  But his conversion from non-compassionate to compassionate by Jimmy’s words in the confession box is hardly convincing.

    JIMMY’S HALL is an affable film but lacks the power of Loach’s more controversial films.  His best film KES, for example really strips down all the social layers to get into the soul of the film’s character.  JIMMY’S HALL attempts to just re-tell of Jimmy’s exploits and that is about all.

    Still the film is a homage to the Irish, their language, dancing, life and country.  The teaching of a gallic song in Jimmy’s Hall is particularly moving.  And it is a well made period piece with a lot of heart.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUQ9s2ex4HE

    THE TRIBE (Ukraine 2014) ****
    Directed by Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy

    tribeba

    THE TRIBE, which garnered three Critics' Week awards, including the Grand Prix — is an unforgettably original drama set entirely in the world of the deaf mute.  The film begins with the warning that there are no subtitles, translation or voice over.  The result is a film that often is difficult to understand, less put together unless one understands sign language.  

    The protagonist is teenage Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko), arriving at a boarding school for the deaf and mute, and greeted by more than the usual challenges of integration.  He is put through the requisite initiation rites, he proves himself worthy and is brought under the protective wing of the school's gang leader.   But he falls in love, setting up major problems.  

    That is pretty much the film’s story.  Sergey’s development from novice to patriarch.  It is a disturbing story of youth but one everyone can relate on one level or another.  There is the bully, the bullied, the used, the user, the victim and the innocent.

    Director Slaboshpytskiy shoots his film mainly with long shots, stationary and tracking.  Closeups are not used.  The film contains no music.  The soundtrack, mainly of background noises add to the solitude of the youth.  The film sound eerie without music or human dialogue.

    One can argue that THE TRIBE is a gimmick film.  But it is one that would still work without the gimmick.  The main gist of the story can easily be understood.  Trying to understand exactlywhat is happening, might not really be necessary, (another example being last year’s troubled youth film STARRED UP).  But love, drama and raw emotions need no language to understand - as the film quips.  I have see the film twice, the first time at last year’s Toronto International film Festival.  The first viewing blew me away for its shock value and unexpected storyline.  The surprises are gone on the second viewing but THE TRIBE is still a compelling watch from start to finish.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXN7hS-Evao

    TWO 4 ONE (Canada 2015) **
    Directed by Maureen Bradley

    First screened in the Canada’s Spotlight section at the Inside Out LGBT Film Festival, TWO 4 ONE is a rare transgender comedy about a transgendered female Melanie to male Adam (Gavin Crawford) who unexpectedly gets pregnant as a man.  Never mind the medical specifics if this is possible, the writer/director assumes the audiences just goes with the flow.

    Adam, a transman agrees to have a one-night stand with his ex-girlfriend Miriam (Naomi Snieckus) during which he will artificially inseminate her with donated sperm.  However, an accident during the encounter leaves Adam, who has not yet completed the surgical phase of his gender transition, pregnant and forced to confront the ways in which the situation confounds his gender identity.

    On Gavin’s twitter site, “I make faces on TV, sometimes I am funny” is twittered.  But there is one tweet that says this: “Please, no more pictures!”  Humour is perhaps only in the eye of the beholder.  Crawford’s characters is assumed to be comical, a bit sad and perhaps sympathetic.  But it comes across as humourless and pitiful rather than sympathetic.  The actor’s performance as a whole picture is the key. But to be fair to the actor -it is also the fault of the script and the director’s timing.

    For a comedy, a lot of the jokes fall flat.  The best example is scene in the cabin scene between Adam and his mother (Gabrielle Rose).  The mother makes crack after crack at his/her comments on becoming pregnant, but the comedic timing is completely off.  In proper hands, that scene might be an unforgettable laugh-out loud moment.

    The film’s best segment is the one in the bar when Adam tells his construction co-workers that he was previously Melanie.  Though their reaction is expected, their positive attitude still makes a winsome moment, much lacking throughout the rest of the film.  The cordial mother/son relationship also helps the film win audiences to the story’s side.

    As for story-wise logic, one wonders for the poor fate of Miriam’s current live-in girlfriend (Andrea Menard) who has to put up with Mariam’s infidelity and dishonesty.  She is still there for Mariam after a catastrophe. No one in their right mind would put up with it.

    At least the film is unafraid of being Canadian.  A lot of small budget films disguise their Canadian roots to cater for a larger American audience.  Crawford has his roots in Toronto theatre.

    But the film won a few awards, for Gavin as Best actor (ACTRA) and Gabrielle Rose for Best Supporting Actress (Leo awards).

    Two 4 One is a small, earnest, well-intentioned film, a gimmick film about a male getting pregnant.  But a film needs for than a gimmick to work.  A similar 1972 film, the little seen Jacques Demy’s THE SLIGHTLY PREGNANT MAN with Marcello Mastroianni, at least showcased the gay director’s modern idealistic future lifestyle in his work.

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/106037011

    BEST BETS:

     Best Film Opening: ANT-MAN

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documentary: AMY

    Best Action: ANT-MAN

    Best Foreign: A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

    Best Western: SLOW WEST

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Jul 10, 2015)

    Opening this week are THE MINIONS and THE GALLOWS.  Smaller films opening include the excellent documentary AMY and TANGERINE.

     

    FILM REVIEWS: 

    AMY (UK 2015) ***1/2

    Directed by Asif Kapadia

    Beginning in 2003 and ending in her death at the early age of 27 in July 2011, the film AMY traces the troubled life of singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse, who made world headlines with both her tragic living and her talent.

    Directed by BAFTA award-winning director Asif Kapadia (SENNA), this is ‘everything you wanted to know about Amy Winehouse’, a comprehensive primer on her.  It features extensive unseen archive footage and previously unheard tracks, bringing the audience into the world of the rich, famous and unfortunate.  

    Considering the fact that Winehouse has since passed away for 2 years, this documentary/biography looks fresh as if she was still around, through the amount of footage time when she is heard and seen on the screen.  Director Kapadia has done an amazing job in assembling all the footage together to create her biography seen largely in chronological order.

    Director Kapadia spends a more than a fair amount of screen time on Winehouse drug and alcohol problems.  Yet she does not judge her character but the unforgiving people that causes her grief.  “I just do not know what to do if I am famous.”  Those are the sad words uttered by Winehouse before her fame.  The paparazzi are shown for all their disgust that they represent.  Idiots like Jay Reno can also be seen on his talk show benefiting on her demise by cracking senseless hurtful jokes like: “I hear Amy is now writing books on cooking…  cooking crystal mesh.”  Shame on you, Jay Leno!

    The best part of the film are the Winehouse’s performances whether singing on stage on during rehearsals.  The segment with Tony Bennett would mean a lot to her fans, as he praises her for being one of the best jazz singers of all time.  The highlight of her life and also a high point in the film - her acceptance of one of the Grammy Awards on stage.

    But the downside of her life is also on display, bringing the film to a sensitive balance. Winehouse’s inability to perform at a concert in Serbia is shown (archival footage) in all its sadness.  Winehouse dies a few days later from alcohol in her Camden home in London.  But the public should be sympathetic to her as her best friends in the film Lauren Gilbert and Juliette Ashby were.  They were always there for her too.

    The film show arrival footage and interviews from Any’s family that includes her father (who capitalized on her fame) and mother, ex-managers and ex-husband Blake who was sent to prison for drugs.

    But AMY the film does justice to singer/songwriter, Amy Winehouse.  It captures the heart of her music and shows her as both an amazing person and music genius despite her substance abuse.  As an additional bonus, there are unrecorded tracks of her songs featured in the film done by her before her death.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A97-pQJD6Hw

    BIG GAME (Finland/Germany/UK 2014) ***
    Directed by Jalmari Helander

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    There is much to enjoy in this G-rated crowd pleaser which adds the element of coming-of-age into the adventure formula.   The Finnish,German and Brit coproduction  is given a welcome boost by the presence of Samuel L. Jackson who always brings over-the-top energy to his roles.  I have not recalled a film in which he has not uttered his favourite term ‘mother f***er.  Here, he plays the President of the United on the survival skills of a 13-year-old woodsman.  But he still manages to utter those two words, though the last syllable clouded by the sound of a gun going off.  And because the two words were technically unheard on screen, the film could escape with the G rating.

    The film begins with two totally different worlds on display.  The first is 13-year Oskari (Onni Tommila) on his hunting manhood-rite.  He is very determined (as evident from his facial expressions) to succeed though his father has less confidence in his son.  Oskari enters the woods alone. The other world has President ‘Bill’ (Jackson), trapped in the wilderness after Air Force One is forced down by a terrorist attack.

    Director Jalmari Helander of the hit RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE proves his mettle with another story with a kid as the protagonist.  In RARE EXPORTS, it is a boy with his father finding an evil Santa and uncovering the secret of slaughtered reindeer and disappearing children.  Here, the boy  Oskari becomes the unlikely hero and helps the President survive thus finally making the father proud.  It is a predictable script but it is a totally entertaining film and gladly, there is no need for a plot twist, a gimmick already too often used.

    Helander brilliantly executes the balancing act between action suspense and humour.  The villains, 4 in total are sinister enough, but of the James Bond villain variety.  Oscar Winner Jim Broadbent plays the most successful one, with all the evil relish he can muster, including a murder in the toilet.  The action scenes that include a freezer box containing the President and Oskari racing down the rapids and fights holding on to a helicopter are impressive enough.

    A lot of the film’s success rests on the chemistry between Jackson and the young actor Omni Tommila.  The young actor is a rare find, delivering not only a winning performance but also creating the good chemistry required.

    An additional bonus to the film is its Finnish touch.  Helander takes the Finnish rites-of-passage with full seriousness.  Helander also devotes quite a bit of screen time with the camera spanning the stunning Finnish landscape of the north.  In contrast, he pokes fun at the U.S.  One reason for kidnaping the President is illustrated by villain Morris (Ray Stevenson) expression of his disgust that the President has not only failed in his duty but cannot do a single push-up.  He is to be stuffed by a taxidermist as punishment.  “Instead of looking tough, you have to be tough,” is the advice given by the 13-year old to the President.

    BIG GAME though the premise might hanse sounded lame turns out to be more entertaining than expected.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHdFE10n9bc

     

     
     

    SELF/LESS (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Tarsem Singh

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    SELF/LESS a sci-fi action thriller begins with super millionaire, Damian (Ben Kingsley) having two major problems - his  poor health and his needed reconciliation with his estranged daughter.  He succumbs to the temptation of living forever.  His mind is alert and he will have his body transported into an empty vessel by Dr. Albright (Matthew Goode) through an underground process called shedding.  But the promise of immortality turns into a nightmare when he experiences flashbacks which begin to reveal the disturbing origins of the body he now inhabits.  The main story is his search for the family of the man’s body and eventually do some good in his life.

    The problem with the film is that the story allows for lot of plot loopholes.  And the script by Alex and David pastor attempts to answer every question.  The result if a story with too much information and plot twists so that the suspense thriller is compromised, never mind silly neglected points like the car Damian (Ryan Reynolds playing the new Damian), Madeline  (Natalie martinez) and Claire (Michelle Dockery) conveniently parked away from their house where they were attacked.  Characters like Anton (Derek Luke) who befriends the new Damian early on in the story can also be eliminated without much effect.

    The overall effect of the film is a confused and over plotted action film.  The action sequences are nothing much to write home about, through there are quite few hand-to-hand fights.

    Another problem with films of this sort is that when the old Damian inhabits the new body, his character disappears due to the fact that the audience only sees the new body.  So how the millionaire feels and acts look foreign.

    There has been quite a lot of sci-fi films this year but the best is still EX-MACHINA.  Director Tarsem Singh has created the similar effect in SELF/LESSas his last film - the fairy tale MIRROR MIRROR, which is a totally forgettable big budget film.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mc4sz6neHDs

    THE MINIONS (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda

    Written by Brian Lynch in a script which has minimal dialogue for its minion characters, THE MINIONS follows the history of the yellow gibberish creatures from prehistoric times to the 60’s as they search for purpose in life.  Their purpose takes the form of finding an evil master (why evil is never explained) from T-rexes to Dracula to Napoleon Buonaparte (since the directors and a lot of film crew are French).  The narration by Geoffrey Rush, National Geographic style informs the audience of the  minions’ evolution, which are lame excuses to wring cheap laughs.

    The main plot involves the minions’ three saviours, Kevin, Stuart andBob (voiced by the directors) as they search for an evil master.  They eventually settle on Scarlet Overkill and aid her steal the crown jewels from Queen Elizabeth (neatly voiced by Jennifer Saunders).

    There are inherent problems with the minions movie.  Firstly, it is a spin off of supporting characters.  The minions were servants of Dr. Gru (Steve Carrell) in DESPICABLE ME.  Spin off characters seldom make it as main leads.  Another disadvantage is that the minions speak no English, only gibberish.  The animators get away with sneaking a few words for the minions like ‘gracias’ and ‘kumbaya’, but the vocabulary is too limited and the words repeated once too often.  The cuteness and goofiness factors are pushed to the limit.  No doubt that these are cute characters, made more adorable by donning them with blue overalls and useless goggles and have them come in different shapes, eyes and sizes.  Kevin, the main minion is tall and long, Bob is rotund and Stuart is plan silly looking.

    As the minions are hardly characters, the film relies on Oscar winner Sandra Bullock’s character, the super villainess, Scarlet Overkill.  Though Bullock has proven her comedic skills in films like Paul Feig’s THE HEAT opposite Melissa McCarthy, her character cannot stand alon in this film.  There is only so much she can do with her stereotyped uninventive character.  Carrell did much better as Dr. Gru.

    The beginning skits of the minions looking for different Masters before each are destroyed due to their own doing are mildly funny.  Again these are pushed right to the limit to the end of the movie.

    The ending of THE MINIONS when the creatures find a new master, a young Dr. Gru spices up the rather uninventive story.  This only proves how important the Dr. Gru character was in the DESPICABLE ME movies.

    Cute as they are, the minions are nowhere as funny or goofy as the Loony Tunes characters like Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny or Elmer Fudd.  And the Loony Tunes characters seldom last more than a 5-minute cartoon.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder or enough is enough should be in the minds of the directors.

    A trailer of the new Universal animated feature THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS works on the same principle of the minions movie - cuteness.  The trailer appeared to garner cheers from the audience.  But the trailer lasted less than 5 minutes.  A 90-minute film, like THE MINIONS will wear cuteness to the stage of ‘enough is enough’.

    Still THE MINIONS have their fans.  And Universal has been been getting hit after hit of movies this year.  This film should be no exception.  

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvKmSNxFHyQ

    TANGERINE (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Sean Baker

    The film opens when Sin-Dee Rella (Kiki Kitana Rodriguez), fresh out of her 28-day prison stint, is hunting down her pimp boyfriend, Chester (James Ranson) after hearing rumours that he has been cheating on her with some girl whose name begins with a ‘d’.  Her best friend, Alexandra (Mya Taylor) promises to come along with her on the promise that there will be ‘no drama’.  But it is all the drama that makes this film.

    TANGERINE is no ordinary film.  For one, it is anyone’s guess why the film is so-called.  Perhaps it is tangerine country in L.A. where the film is shot.  The two subjects Sin-Dee and Alexandra are both trans-gender prostitutes, but the film should be enjoyed beyond the LGBT circuit.  The film is also completely shot using Apple iPhone 5s cameras and associate devices that include a steadicam rig to stabilize the images.

    The action takes place at the Highland Avenue, Santa Monica intersections of the L.A. sex-trade neighbourhood, the corner for transgender hookers during a Christmas eve.  The date is a ruining joke throughout the film.  One comical scene occurs when one customer kicks a straight hooker out of his car because she has no dick, she obviously selling her wares on the wrong corner.  Mosts scenes follow the two friends who keep using their own lingo like ‘bitch’, ‘shut the f*** up’ and the like.  But director Baker throws another character into the story - an Armenian cab driver named Razmik (Karren Karagulian) who frequents the transgender prostitutes, unknown to his family till his mother-in-law catches him red handed in the donut shop where Sin-Dee finally finds Chester.  The donut shop forms the venue for the film’s dramatic or comedic climax, depending how one wants to look at it.

    The little film also contains a neat message on the strength of friendships, delivered in the film in the weirdest way.

    The film works because the film’s characters are so irresistibly watchable.  They are extremely catty.  If they are not at each other’s throats, they are off at others.  The script by Chris Bergoch also contains inventive set-ups.  It is always one surprise after another.  The best is Sin-Dee entering a whorehouse, finding who she thinks is the girl who slept with Chester.  She then spends a whole lot of screen time dragging her by the hair half around the city before confronting Chester.

    But the film ends rather abruptly, for want of a proper conclusion.  Still, one wants to see more of the low lives on display.

    TANGERINE is not everyone’s movie, and that is a good thing.  Baker’s film is full of spirit and energy, from start to finish, a feat seldom accomplished in big or small budgeted movies.  Shot on iPhones, the film is surprisingly clear as well as intimate.  One would not like to meet any of the film’s characters on the street, but one cannot keep ones eyes off them.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALSwWTb88ZU

    THAT SUGAR FILM (Australia 2014) ***
    Directed by Damon Gameau

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    Everybody knows by now that refined sugar is not good for the body.  Yet everyone still drinks pop. “Just Can’t Get Enough”, the Depeche Mode song appropriately opens the film that educates audiences on the danger of consuming sugar.

    In 2004, upcoming filmmaker Morgan Spurlock underwent a self-induced experiment of embarking on a non-stop diet of McDonald menu foods to see what damage could be done to his body.  His film SUPER SIZE ME became an instant sensation.  In THAT SUGAR FILM, Aussie documentarist Damon Gameau attempts a similar feat - this time using sugar.

    In THAT SUGAR FILM, Gameau goes for 60 days on a 40 teaspoon sugar diet.  The man was sugar free before and a relatively fit person.  Keeping the calorie intake identical but only changing the source of the sugars, Gameau gained a 3 inch expansion of his waistline while gaining 15 lbs.  But most important of all, he gained a fatty, unhealthy live and became susceptible to extreme mood swings.  The raison d’être for the experiment is his and his wife’s incoming birth of a new baby daughter.  They want to know what’s best for her.

    The experiment is a controlled one.  Gameau consults the experts of the  medical profession.  He concocts nicknames for them like Professor Blood, the Crusader and the Celtic Food Guru.

    Gameau utilizes a mixture of education, musical numbers and humour to get his point across.  But films using this tactic often has the humour undermine the importance of the subject.  Fortunately the facts are presently so strongly in this case that the humour supplements the effect of the message.  One prime example is the segment on Mountain Dew teeth.  A small town in the States is place where all the kids drink Mountain Dew to alarming results.  A 17-year old is shown with all his bad teeth as a result.  He undergoes a procedure to extract all 26 of his teeth to be replaced by dentures.  And because of his gum infection, the anaesthetic does not work fully.  Another example is actor Stephen Fry doing a stand-up coming routine on the evils of sugar.  But Gameau’s claim of the extreme amount of sugar in a bottle of Mountain Dew is a bit exaggerated, as I did not a check of the sugar contents of a bottle.

    The film also presents straight facts.  The audience is given advice as do not eat refined sugars, cake candy, ice-cream etc.

    But the medical facts make the most sense and serve as the film’s best arguments.  Sugar prevents the body from processing fat so that sugar is in reality worse that fat. The film also dispenses the myth that brown sugar or corn syrup are good substitutes.  Audiences are specifically told of the evils of fructose and sucrose.

    Using entertainment and much humour, THAT SUGAR FILM is an eye-opening film and would definitely make a different to the diet of anyone watching the film.  I, myself have already started a relatively sugar-free diet.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uaWekLrilY

    BEST BETS:

     Best Film Opning: AMY

    Best Animation: INSIDE OUT

    Best Documenatry: AMY

    Best Action: MAD MAX FURY ROAD

    Best Foreign: A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE

    Best Indie:  DOPE and TANGERINE

    Best Western: SLOW WEST

  • This Week's Film Reviews (July 1, 2015)

    THIS WEEK'S FILM REVIEWS (JULY 1st 2015)

    Early openings Wednesday becasue of Canada Day and U.S July 4th holidays.

    MAGIC MIKE XXL and TERMINATOR GENISYS open Wednesday and SUITE FRANCAISE open at the Bell Lightbox, Toronto on Thursday July 2nd.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    DEEP WEB (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Alex Winter

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    Director Alex Winter, best known as Keanu Reeves slacker friend in BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE has made another informative documentary, this time about the deep web aka the Silk Road.  Winter has ventured into directing, his last feature being another doc called DOWNLOADED.  DEEP WEB is narrated by Keanu Reeves who has an interest in Bitcoins.

    DEEP WEB covers the events surrounding Silk Road, Bitcoin and politics of the Dark Web.  Covering the trial of Ross Ulbricht, the documentary features interviews with Wired writer Andy Greenberg who puts the whole picture into perspective.

    The film begins with facts, facts and more facts.  Just when the film tethers towards being too technical, it swings to concentrate on its administrator, Ross Ulbricht, aka Dread Pirate Roberts (name from THE PRINCESS BRIDE).  But when using the search engine TOR which totally encrypts the information of users accessing this, Deep Web or Silk Road, users can ‘safely’ buy illicit drugs alike LSD, molly and heroin from the web.  But the feds finally caught on with Ulbricht finally arrested.  How the feds found the information, through some server in Finland is never explained. The film is now able to connect to the audience in more human terms.  So the film switches from the technical information of the wide web to Ulricht’s trial.  But some may complain that the film never gets to the core of the Wide Web.  But the film also goes into some detail, with a segment on British encryptors having a meeting in London.

    Ulbricht is not allowed to be interviewed when he is in prison.  So the film uses old footage, family and news of the man as well as interviews from his family, particularly his mother, who has turned out quite the articulate crusader.

    The film is obviously biased towards the Deep Web and to the case of Ross Albricht.  His mother is the one who condemns the judicial system as unfair.  Evidence that would help her son is deemed inadmissible by the judge who always seem to favour the prosecution.

    Albricht has been accused of being a drug lord as well as a murderer who has hired hit men to kill his witnesses.  How true this is - no one will ever know, and Winter allows the audience to make their own decision, which is a good thing.  But Winter provides testimony on Albricht, how he would never hurt a fly.  And what he is only guilty of - is to be the administrator of the Deep Web.

    The film holds the result of Ulbricht’s trial to the last, forming the film’s climax. If the trial turns out positive with Ulbricht acquitted, that would account for a happy ending.  Those who have followed the news on the Deep Web already know that this is not the case.  Ulbricht has got a life sentence on May the 29th with no parole.  But he is finally allowed to be interviewed.  The questions  posed to him are what he would see himself in 5 yard and further into the future.  His answers form the film’s conclusion.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRTps__Ym5M

     

    MAGIC MIKE XXL (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Gregory Jacob

     

    The sequel MAGIC MIKE XXL is an improvement to Steven Soderbergh’s terrible original in 2003, but that is not saying much.  Soderbergh served as executive producer for the sequel leaving the directorial reigns to Gregory Jacob who was Soderbergh’s first assistant director all the OCEAN’S ELEVEN sequels and original.

    The film begins three years after Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) bowed out of the stripper life at the top of his game.  Mike and the remaining Kings of Tampa hit the road to Myrtle Beach to put on one last blow-out performance.

    The promo screening was 90% female and it is easy to see why.  The film on male dancers or male entertainers, the industry term, would delight all the women for the great male bodies on display.

    A lot of screen time is devoted to the male dancing.  The film has the feel of “So You Think You Can Dance” with each member of the cast doing their thing that forms the climax of the film.  In fact one of the male dancers is played by Stephen Boss, was one of the winners of the TV series.  The script by Reid Carolyn is smart enough to realize that the audience are paying the bucks to see male flesh and not story or character development.  In fact the film runs into trouble whenever it begins on any story, such as Mike’s meeting with a girl Zoe (Amber Heard) on the beach.  They try to spice up the meeting with her catching him peeing in public, but the ‘souped up’ dialogue is totally silly, ridiculous and contrived.

    For a film about male strippers, there is surprisingly no nudity - front or back.  But lots of teasing and going through the motions.  

    The best part of the film occurs at the beginning when the dancers ham it up doing effeminate moves on a show host by a drag queen.  Nothing else in thefilm can match up to that.

    The dance moves are a riot and almost good enough to save the movie.  But the dances are not nearly as good as “So You Think You Can Dance”.  But Channing Tatum is a hoot as Magic Mike.  Andie MacDowell has her fun as drunk rich socialite, Nancy Davidson, whose mansion is fortunately invaded by Mike and gang.  But Jada Pinkett Smith overstays her welcome as the dancers’ M.C. becoming really tiresome with her silly written introductions to the dancers.

    The film ends as abruptly as an end to a strip dance with the screen going black.  The shortage of material comes across loud and clear.  But the females in the audience do not seem to mind.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwPR0q5es0A

     

     

    SUITE FRANCAISE (France/Belgium /UK 2014) **

    Directed by Saul Dibb

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    SUITE FRANCAISE stands for two things in the film. One is the French suite that a German Officer, Lt. Bruno stays in, in Central France during the German Occupation and the second the name of musical piece, this composer, Bruno wrote whose melody reminds his French love, Lucille (Michelle Williams) of their affair.

    The film is a World War 2 romantic drama based on Irene Nemirovsky’s 2004 novel of the same name.  It centres on a romance between a French villager and a German soldier during the early years of the German occupation of France.

    The novel was supposed to be in 5 parts, but the author died in a concentration cpm before she finished writing.  The film is based on the fist 2 parts, the Exodus of the French from Paris to the outskirts, which is barely shown in the film.  The second part is where the film dwells.

    But when the filmmakers decide to make the film in English to appeal to a wider audience and using British instead of a French crew, one can smell trouble brewing.  The French speak English with a French accent to the French and to the Germans.  The Germans actors playing the Germans speak in German and English with a German accent when peaking to the French.  Unfortunately, the film occasionally has the feel of the TV series “Allo, Allo” in which British actors play French villages in WWII.

    Due to the source material, the film has a very strong woman’s point of view. In a sense it is a case of love conquers all and that love can overcome the enmity felt among war enemies.  It is a really romantic view of the war that does not really hold true nor work, but to the credit of the script co-written by Dibb and Matt Charman, the story does question Lucille’s loyalties at one point into the film.

    Lucille is staying with her stern mother-in-law Madame Angellier (Kristin Scott Thomas) in Bussy who she does not get along with while her husband, not seen in the film is at war.  When the Germans appear in the village, each home is forced to house a German soldier.  Madame Angellier takes it Lt. Bruno (Matthias Schoenaerts).  Lucille discovers her husband’s unfaithfulness and that he has had a son. Lt. Bruno and Lucille have an affair.  Things get complicated when a villager shoots a German Officer and Lucille gives him a hiding place.

    Though the atmosphere is full of tension, Dibb’s film has a surprising dull middle section.  It is only when Benoit comes into the picture, killing the German officer that the film picks up.  Otherwise, the other elements of the story such as the shootout at the German check point and the doomed love affair of the French and German hidden from the mother-in-law feel contrived.  And executed like a TV movie.

    Of all the performances, Ruth Wilson stands out as the long-suffering wife of Benoit (Sam Riley). 

    Despite the excellent cast including the well known German actor Tom Schilling playing the nasty Kurt Bonnet, Dibb’s film is poorly paced and alternates between scenes of suspense and ones whee nothing much happens.  But the film, shot in France and Belgium gives the film the appropriate period atmosphere.

    The voiceover during the entire film that relates exactly what is going on is annoying.  The worse is the line spoken at the end: “We did our part and in the same way in 4 years, France was free.”  - quite a preposterous statement.  The film has an open ending, likely reflecting the unfinished parts of the author’s 5-part novel.

    The piece SUITE FRANCAISE was composed by Alexandre Desplat who was replaced in the film by Rael Jones.  The film features original music by these two as well as recognizable French tunes by Lucienne Boyer, Josephine Baker and Rosita Serrano.

    Director Gibb chose to put the film into perspective by bookending it with the novel’s discovery by Denise Epstein (Eileen Aitkins), the author’s daughter.

    But the film is a clear disappointment.  One can hope that the novel be given a better treatment with a French director that will do justice to the material.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cR0L6invGQ

     

     
     
     

     

    TERMINATOR GENISYS (USA 2015) **
    Directed by Alan Taylor

    TERMINATOR GENISYS, the fifth instalment of the TERMINATOR series started by James Cameron is not so much a re-boot than a culmination of all the films, attempting to summarize all of the stories.  The film begins with a 15 minute voiceover amidst starting credits to inform the audience the state of affairs of the dystopian world.  Skynet has destroyed the world and terminators are killing off all the human beings, with the survivors gone into hiding.

    For those who have forgotten, terminators are machines designed to kill human beings.  The boy Kyle Reese is saved from a terminator by John Connor (Australia’s Jason Clarke).  John and Kyle, when grown up (Jai Courtney) destroy the terminators HQ in a feat too easily done.  But nothing is as good as it gets.  The terminators have travelled to the past to kill John’s mother to wipe out that point in history so that the revolution and the event of their defeat is erased from history.  If John’s mum is killed, there is no John and no destruction of the terminators HQ.  Kyle travels back and finds the mother, called Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), who somehow knows who Kyle is.  Kyle also meets a good terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who protects Sarah Connor.  Why is Sarah always called by her full name Sarah Connor is funny.  Why there is a good terminator is also unconvincingly explained.  And there is a bad John Connor who suddenly appears to kill Sarah Connor.  And the plot gets more complicated with the story changing as the film progresses.  The story changes so many times that one need not bother about following any longer.  There is some silly theory too about dual timelines and characters seeing themselves.  This is a case in time travel where logic is thrown down the gutter.  Kyle’s new mission is altered now to destroy skynet before it destroys the world.

    The film, thankfully is action non-stop.  The plot holes, at least can be dismissed by the unassuming fan.  But there are segments seen before in other films, like the collapse of the Golden Gate Bridge, done before in the recent SAN ANDREAS.  But without pacing, the action segments tend to get tiresome.

    Even Schwarzenegger’s presence cannot save the movie.  His “I’ll be Back”, an already too-familiar phrase did not register any response from the audience at the promo screening.  His new smile showing his white teeth did garner laughs, but it is quite a creepy smile.  The John Connor character appears in the film at times, with and without his facial scars, which is puzzling.  And Oscar winner J.K. Simmons has a token role as a police officer who wants to help the time travellers.

    TERMINATOR GENISYS proves that social effects, CGI and lots of action cannot make a good movie.  It can fool audience to be glued at the action sequences, but that is about it.  Audiences can now wait for the next action blockbuster reboot.  There will be no shortage of the  BATMAN and SPIDER-MAN reboots, which are already in the process.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CN__WyMfEKw

  • TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Vittorio De Sica

    TIFF CINEMATHEQUE PRESENTS - VITTORIO DE SICA

    The series entitled “More Than Life Itself: Rediscovering the Films of Vittorio De Sica” begins June 26th 2015. 

    This series goes on in conjunction with TIFF Cinematheqiue’s Summer in Italy series.

    Dedicated to the great Italian maestro, De Sica are rare and restored prints of classics including Bicycle Thieves, Marriage Italian Style, Umberto D. and Two Women.

    All the above 4 films and THE CHILDREN ARE WATCHING US are capsule reviewed below.

    CAPSULE REVIEWS:

    THE CHILDREN ARE WATCHING US (IL BAMBINI CI GUARDANO) (Italy 1944) ****

    Directed by Vittorio De Sica

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    It is exactly how the title implies. Prico is the young boy who quietly observes the mother Nina’s infidelity with her lover, Roberto. It all begins when she takes him to a park for her rendezvous. Thing get complicated when she leaves suddenly and then returns home to the family out of guilt for the boy. Films told from a child’s point of view have always that certain innocent charm that wows the audience. This film is no exception. It is one of innocence lost in an adult’s corrupt world. The scene in which the boy lies to the father to protect the mother is one of the film’s most moving segments. It also confirms De Sica’s mettle at working with children in films (BICYCLE THIEVES, SHOWSHINE). It helps that Luciano De Ambrosis playing the boy is absolutely adorable. The film will be screened in a rare imported 35mm print. Th film’s ending is incredibly powerful and unforgettable.

    LADRI DI BICICLETTE (Bicycle Thieves) (Italy 1948) *****

    Directed by Vittorio De Sica

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    One of the most beloved and heartbreaking films of all times, De Sica’s LADRI DI BICICLETTE is the ultimate neorealist film. It tells of a man, Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) who has his bicycle, his only means of making a living stolen. Desperate, he roams the streets on a Sunday with his son (Enzo Staiola) hunting down the thief. The adventures provide more trouble than ever, as the thief is found, but there is nothing that can be done with no evidence or witnesses. De Sica ups the suspense many times during the film, especially in the early scenes when the audience knows that the bicycle is going to be stolen, or when Antonio is deciding whether to steal another bike. The non-professional actors are surprisingly perfect, especially Staiola as the son. The poor working class atmosphere is effectively created as well as the desperation of the Romans unable to get decent work. LADRI DI BICICLETTE is still a pleasure to watch, time and time again!

    MARRIAGE, ITALIAN STYLE (MATRIMONIO ALL’ITALIANA) (Italy/Fr 1964) ***** 

    Directed by Vittorio De Sica

    Simply put, MARRIAGE, ITALIAN STYLE is the best romantic comedy of all time.  Full of heart, Italian charm, romance, emotion, drama and tons of laugh-out loud laughs this is one must-see film that will blow you away.  Based on the play Filumena Martunaro, the film begins with the World War II era story of a cynical, successful businessman named Domenico (Marcello Mastroianni), who, after meeting a naive country girl, Filumena (Sophia Loren), one night in a Neapolitan brothel, keeps frequenting her for years in an on-off relationship (as she continues working as a prostitute).  He fools her to meet his mother only to have her take care of her - an ailing, senile woman, who comically, dies in the film’s next scene.  She fools him to marry her, him believing she is about to die.  She reveals to him to be the mother of 3 sons, one of which is his.  Typically Italian, the film is full of shouting and full of keen observations on Neopolitan life.  Loren, nominated for the Best Actress oscar is simply magnificent and beautiful in every way, especially in the scene where she climbs out of the window of a bus.  The film was also nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.

    TWO WOMEN (LA CIOCIARA) (ITALY/FRANCE 1960) ****
    Directed by Vittorio De Sica

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    The Italian title La Ciociara translates to ‘the woman’. The English title TWO WOMEN refers to Cesira (Sophia Loren), a wealthy shopkeeper in Rome and her 12-year old daughter, Rosetta (Eleanora Brown) who suffers from a weak heart. When allied bombs fall in Rome during the second world war, they travel to the village where Cesira was born.  TWO WOMEN is a road trip, in a way as they do a lot of travelling with major incidents occurring then. The film spends a fair amount of time in the village where Cesira meets a communist intellectual Michele (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who falls in love with her. But the most disturbing segment is when mother and daughter get raped by soldiers hiding in a church. This cruel event is too much for the always powerful fighting Cesira and she suffers from a breakdown.  A drama that has a light touch till the rape scene. De Sica captures both the human condition during the horrors of war. Loren won the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in this film.

    UMBERTO D (Italy 1952) ****

    Directed by Vittorio De Sica

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    Made after LADRI DI BICICLETTE, though not as good but still effective in its storytelling, UMBERT D begins with a march of elderly men for the raising of pensions which is quickly stopped by the police because the men had no permit to march. The crowd files out of the square, still muttering their protests, with the camera eventually focusing in on one of the marchers, Umberto D (non-professional actor Carlo Battisti). The story centres on this old man who needs money to prevent his eviction from his rented room. He is unable to find the money and is depressed to the point of suicide. His old friends are a pregnant maid and Flike, his dog. De Sica’s camera follows UMBERTO D around the town evoking the audience’s emotions as a decent man tries to survive in a hard world without enough money. The simple climax is sufficient to shake the audience out of their seats.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Jun 26, 2015)

    Two animal movies open this week.  Dog or Teddy bear?  Max is  family movie about a boy and his dog while TED 2 is an R-rated comedy.  Eden and The Overnight also open.

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    Three new series open at TIFF Bell Lightbox.  TIFF Cinematheque presents - Summer in Italy, Dreaming in Technicolour and Vittorio De Sica.

    FILM REVIEWS:

    EDEN (France 2014) ****

    Directed by Mia Hansen-Love

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    Director of GOODBYE, FIRST LOVE and LE PERE DES MES ENFANTS, Hansen-Love tackles a more ambitious project – the rise of electronic dance music from the 80’s to the 00’s as seen through the eye of rising teenage DJ Paul (Felix de Givry). 

    Paul and a friend form a DJ duo called Cheers. Hansen-Love ties in another group of two called Daft Punk, that moves into his circle of friends. Those in the scene know of the success of Daft Punk especially after they created such a hit in 2013 with their song/mix “Get Lucky”. Hansen-Love shoots all the glories and downs of the club scene from the girls, drugs and dance to the club’s high rents, change in music styles and romances. 

    The film is lengthy at 130 minutes, and can be quite the chore to watch if one is not familiar or interested in the subject matter. Though Hansen-Love never goes into depth, just skimming the surface of the club scene, her camerawork does capture the spirit of the moment. It helps that she likely drew insight from her younger brother, DJ Therein who in real life had residency at the well-known Queen Club in Paris. 

    Her traits from her previous films are also evident in EDEN. Romances picked up after a decade follow the one in GOODBYE, FIRST LOVE and the shot of Paul crossing the street is reminiscent of the poster of the actor doing the same in LE PERE DES MES ENFANTS.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2l1T9xs-o0o

    THE LITTLE DEATH (Australia 2014) ***1/2

    Directed by Josh Lawson

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    Australian Josh Lawson’s debut feature uses dictionary definitions as a plot device. It begins with the translation of ‘le petit mort’ or the little death which is explained as a slang term for ‘orgasm’. What then unfolds is a cute, inventive little sex comedy with 4 couples exploring other sexual fetish (largely unfamiliar) definitions such as dacryphilia (sexual arousal through crying).

    THE LITTLE DEATH works in a similar fashion to Woody Allen’s EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK, only with more heart. And with that surprise difference, it makes this a better film.

    The first couple, Maeve (Bojana Novakovic) and Paul (Lawson himself) fare pretty well despite the fact that they are not married. But when Maeve confesses to Paul that she has a ‘rape’ fantasy, he tries to surprise her but with disastrous results. The second couple, Evie (Kate Mulvany) and Dane (Damon Herriman) embark on role playing to spice up their sex life. The weirdest couple is long-married Phil (Alan Dukes) and Maureen (Lisa McCune). Maureen nags half the time while Phil has a sexual kick while watching his wife sleeping. This results in him drugging her to sleep every night. The funniest couple gives a whole new definition to the term water sports. Rowena (Kate Box) discovers herself mightily aroused whenever her husband, Richard (Patrick Brammall) sheds a tear (dacryphilia). As a result, she goes all out of the way to keep Richard crying including forcing him to peel onions which is becoming more and more common during meals. All these segments are linked together by the character Steve, newly moved into the neighbourhood, who suddenly appears at the door of each couple offering baked ‘gollywogs’ while informing them that he is required by law to inform them that he is a convicted sex offender.

    The stories are inventive and fresh enough. Though one might not work that well with a film like this one knows that one can expect something better around the corner. And director Lawson springs a major surprise with the wild card of the ending boy and girl (not technically a couple) meeting by chance. Monica (Erin James) works at a video service translating phone calls for the deaf-mute. She winds up on a call with Sam (T.J. Power), only to find that he wants her to mediate his conversation with a phone-sex operator (Genevieve Hegney). What transpires is a perfectly orchestrated verbal and visual set-up guaranteed to have the audience laughing out loud while feeling super good at the same time. If every one of the stories were this well executed, the film would garner 5 stars.

    The stories begin with each couple being set up.  Then the stories of the first 4 couples are intercut among each other.  The only exception is the last story that is allowed to unroll in its entirety forming the film's climax.  This is a good decision on the director's part as the last story packs the biggest punch!

    The film should be seen for the last segment alone. Still, the other stories are not half bad and should provide the laughs, though at times quite uncomfortably. THE LITTLE DEATH is a good little naughty film that should keep audiences titillated. Whatever happened to ordinary run of the mill sex? as one of the characters in the film complains. But there is nothing to complain here.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnnhesQ8Rxc

    MAX (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Boaz Yakin

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    One would like to give credit to a good old-fashioned family film made in a good old fashioned way, in this case, a good dog trainer doing his stuff and made without special effects and CGI. MAX has a good story and possesses good family values in its message. Unfortunately, good intentions are not enough. The execution of the film leaves lots of plot holes and the film leans toward sentiment, perhaps like the classic dog movie LASSIE, COME HOME.

    A military dog, named Max, from Afghanistan is adopted by his late handler's (Robbie Amell) grieving family in the U.S., where his close bond with the soldier's brother, Justin (Josh Wiggins) leads to a life-altering revelation in this family-friendly adventure. The story is expanded to include some weapons running involving some bad-ass Mexicans, though Justin’s best friend and romantic interest is also Mexican.

    The dog vs. dog fights, racing and dog attack segments are well orchestrated and almost lift the film above its flaws.

    Yakin’s film is considerable racist against the Mexicans. The Mexicans are deemed the bad guys, period. They all speak with the stereotyped accent and treated as second class citizens in the movie.

    As for plot holes, the father’s (Thomas Haden Church) gun holster just happens to be left behind for the dog, Max to pick up the scent Max trails the father through a stream with heavy currents though it is clear that he never went through that path. The father also leaves a message to his family about going to a hunting lodge which triggers suspicion as the family does not own one. Why would the kidnappers allow the father to phone home?

    But audiences might still favour seeing a boy and his dog surmount unbeatable odds. It would be interesting to se how this film (95% on Rotten Tomatoes say they want to see this film) fares at the box-office.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6EPPMCwD5bw

    THE OVERNIGHT (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Patrick Brice

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    The Duplass Brothers and actor Adam Scott must have been impressed with Patrick Brice to have executively produce his film. Judging from the curriculum vitae of the producers (The Duplass Brothers’ HUMPDAY and Adam Scott’s naughty HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2), small budget sex comedies seem right up their alley.

    The film begins with the main couple Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) having sex sans nudity. This follows with Alex taking their son to the playground where he meets another kid. They get invited to the kid’s parents (Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godreche) neighbour welcoming dinner party. The children's playdate becomes a couple's playdate after the children are put to sleep.

    THE OVERNIGHT falls into the category of ‘uncomfortable comedy’ (THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS, THE HANGOVER 2). These are comedies based on mishaps occurring one after another on the unfortunate lead characters. The main trap these comedies fall into are that the mishaps are often unfunny and it is uncomfortable for the audience to find humour in the misfortune of others. In THE OVERNIGHT, as the couples party deeper into the night, Alex and Emily face weirder and weirder situations (Kurt’s a**hole paintings, Charlotte’s bi-sexuality) which are not necessarily funny. The pot smoking and drinking forms the excuse that Alex and Emily do not leave the party.

    Brice’s script stereotypes the French to be sexual liberators. Charlotte is French and Kurt has lived in France. 

    Adam Scott plays Alex, who is the primary victim in the sex ensemble of 4. Scott has proven himself the able victim in HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 in the unforgettable scene where he gets it up the a**, and he proves he is again willing to go all the way in terms of a male kiss. Jason Schwartzman comes across as a good creepy too-friendly neighbour with something up his sleeve.

    The film comes across as a male rather than a female comedy. The two wives appear manipulated by their husbands though they have the occasional say. The breast pump and massage segments may offend the female audience that might result in more males liking the film.  The script contains more male humour with items such as penis envy, homophobia, and male dominance in the sense that the husbands have the final say.

    THE OVERNIGHT has the same feel (but not as funny) as the other couples claustrophobic film, CARNAGE, Roman Polanski’s adaptation of a French play “The God of Carnage”. Even the puke scene (Kate Winslet in CARNAGE to Scott’s in OVERNIGHT) seem a used plot device.

    For a film with a naughty premise that stretches the limit throughout its running time, it ends on a fairly safe note with a plot twist. Plot twists are almost a requirement in American scripts these days.

    THE OVERNIGHT arrives at the same time as another little sex comedy THE LITTLE DEATH (slang term for orgasm) from Australia. These two films should keep couples with naughty thoughts in their mind fully occupied. 

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R54tN3njkpE

     

    BEST BETS:

    Drama: Testament of Youth

    Action: Mad Max: Fury Road

    Animation: inside Out

    Foreign Language: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

    Comedy : Dope

    Best documentary: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Disbelief

  • This Week's Film Reviews (June 12, 2014)

    JURASSIC WORLD and ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL are the big ones opening this week.  But a lot of little gems also make their debut.

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    FILM REVIEWS:

    HUNTING ELEPHANTS (Israel/USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Reshef Levi

    'Hunting Elephants' film - 2013

    HUNTING ELEPHANTS is the characters’ code for robbing a bank in Reshef Levi’s Hebrew hilarious crowed-pleaser.

    The film is a crime caper in which seniors with Alzheimer’s rob a bank under the plan of a bullied kid genius. The boy is 12-year old Yonatahn (Gil Blank), smarter than everyone else in school but a stutterer with no friends. When his father dies of a heart attack in the bank that he works, the mother Dorit (Yael Abecassis) goes with the bank manager, Deddy (Moshe Ivgy) in order to make their months living payments. It is a bit of Hamlet here. The man (indirectly) murders the man and steals the wife. In revenge, Yonathan, who has learnt all about the bank’s security from his father, enlists the help of his grandfather, Eliyahu (Sasson Gabai), his uncle the British Lord Michael Simpson (a very funny Patrick Stewart that audiences have never seen before) and Eliyahu’s best friend, Nick (Moni Moshonov) to rob it.

    The film works on several levels. For one, it is a heartfelt comedy. The scenes in which the father dies and another where the grandfather pines over his comatose wife in hospital will be enough to make ones eyes swell in tears. The acting is top notch. Then comes the out-of-place British Lord, a third-rate actor who wows all the Jewish ladies in the old age home. The script gives the best lines to the Lord character. His dialogue in English, often uttered in proud Shakespearean prose in the midst of Hebrew is priceless. This character is the most fun and director Levi milks it for all its worth. There is also a segment of him playing (imagine Captain Pikard playing Darth Vader) Darth Vader in a London play called “Hamlet: Revenge of the Sith”.

    But the the film about old age seniors falls into some of the identical traps of similar films. The chasing of young skin form cheap laughs that should have been avoided. Lord Simpson is enticed by a busty hospital worker, Sigi (Rotem Zissman-Cohen) to her apartment only to end up teaching English to her kid. The sexist subplot may offend the women in the audience.

    But it is still quite the clever script with interesting characters and countless laugh-out loud moments. The execution of the bank heist is also executed with a little suspense and full credibility. It is also good to see a commercial Jewish film about ordinary people and not abut the Israel/Palestine conflict for a change, though there is mention of Eliyahu being in a Jewish terrorist group.

    Despite its flaws, there is much to enjoy in HUNTING ELEPHANTS. It is a well-made movie, a hit in Israel, where it is apparent from the film that everyone has put their heart and soul into making it. And it definitely shows.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xnHUrlZgnw

     

    JURASSIC WORLD (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Colin Trevorrow

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    The long awaited follow-up to Steven Spielberg’s JURASSIC WORLD gets a fresh treatment with new writers and a new director. The original JURASSIC PARK, was written by sci-fi writer Michael Crichton who started the trend of amusement park gone wrong with WESTWORLD and FUTUREWORLD back in the 70’s before going big blockbuster with JURASSIC PARK.

    The story begins with two brothers Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) sent to spend their vacation at Jurassic World, to be looked after by their Aunt Claire (Ron’s Howard’s daughter Dallas Howard Bryce) who has neglected her nephews in the past. This silly subplot predictably allows her to bond back with them when danger strikes. At the huge amusement park, the nastiest of the dinosaurs escape its compound and creates havoc before it comes face-off with another large creature in a monster fight monster to the death like the original Japanese KING KONG vs. GODZILLA fight. In all this, there is a dinosaur whisperer, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) who actually whispers into the ears of the creatures their names and sort-of tames them.

    The story by the film’s 4 writers including director Trevorrow is silly enough but they know it. There is a hidden parody of another film in all this, as evident in the actually really funny bits spread out during the film. The first occurs at the start of the film when Zach says goodbye to his girlfriend when he is about to leave for his one-week vacation at the amusement park, as if he was going to war and never coming back. Within the next 15 minutes, he is caught eyeing fresh skin at Jurassic World. Another segment has Aunt Claire on high heels and in a white dress running around trying to escape the monsters and save the children. When ridiculed by Owen, she pulls up her dress sleeves and tosses her jacket, as if ready to ‘go for it’. His response is a comical “What does this mean?” to her face. It is these bits that lighten the otherwise heavy, unimaginative plot.

    But the film still manages to awe audiences. When the children first step into Jurassic World, the look of the place (the rides, the creatures and the vast expanse of space) is spellbinding. This is what the recent flop, TOMORROWLAND lacked - the place’s ability to awe.

    But the film’s climax fails to live up to expectations. Monster fights have been seen already too often and they are an easy solution out of the dilemma. And, the winning dinosaur is left uncaught in the park.

    Chris Pratt and Howard do their normal arguing romantic pair as expected in a blockbuster of this kind. But the supporting cast that includes French actor Omar Sy (largely wasted here as Owen’s assistant left to running and screaming), Vincent D’Onofrio as the token a***hole, Hoskins in the movie (best remembered as the overweight recruit who shot himself fin FULL METAL JACKET) and Irrfhan Khan (STORY OF PI) try their best.

    JURASSIC WORLD ends up giving audiences what is expected from sequels. There is more CGI special effects, more noise, more action and of course, more teeth.

    LIMITED PARTNERSHIP (USA 2014) ***1/2
    Directed by Thomas G. Miller

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    Just as one would think gay films have run out of new themes (coming-out, gay romance, aids, senior gay coming-out, gay rights, gay marriage etc.), comes a documentary that re-visits he theme of gay rights through immigration. The film traces the trials of a couple through the period of the 70’s to the present - a 40-year period that is on film, seems as fresh now as it was then. It is the courageous love story of Filipino-American Richard Adams and his Australian husband, Anthony Sullivan. After meeting in a Los Angeles gay bar in 1971, the men became one of a handful of same-sex couples who were issued a marriage certificate in 1975 by a forward-thinking county clerk in Boulder, Colorado. But they were not allowed to remain in the United States. In an official letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, their petition was denied because they “failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.” The couple then sued to prevent Tony’s deportation – thus filing the first federal lawsuit seeking equal treatment for a same-sex marriage in U.S. history.  This is their tireless struggle that every person should feel for. Miller’s film also pays tribute to the other brave people in the story like the courageous county clerk in Boulder, Colorado who issued the marriage certificate and the immigration attorneys that fought on the couple’s behalf.  A compelling and still relevant documentary that turns into a love story at the end!

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/95349718

    ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (USA 2015) **
    Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

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    Based on the novel and adapted to the screen by Jesse Andrews, ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL is about high school students Greg (Thomas Mann) and Rachel (Olivia Cooke).

    The film has a simple plot. Greg and buddy, Earl (R.J. Cyler) who he calls his co-worker make horrid parodies of classic films. The film offers too many examples, which were funny at the beginning but gets tiresome after a while with too many titles. But they keep making them and director Gomez-Rejon keeps showing us more titles. When classmate Rachel is diagnosed with cancer, Greg is forced by his mother (Connie Britton) to hang out with her for it is the right thing to do. Their awkward friendship ends up with him and Earl making a movie on Rachel’s life.

    A comedy about death is normally off-beat enough with black humour at its central theme. But the comedy from Andrews’ script can hardly be called black. It can be called occasionally slapstick, silly, teen-oriented or self-conscious. But the film tries is too hard to be funny at any possible opportunity even if it does not make sense. Take the segment when Rachel’s mother (Molly Shannon) calls Greg and Earl ‘mousy boys’. “Do you two mice want some cheese?” She then remarks.  The attempt at comedy here is so lame and forced evolving from an instant that is made up (mousy boys). There is also an uncomfortable lengthy hugging scene between her and Greg that is supposedly be funny but ends up looking weird. Director Gomez-Rejon tries too hard to make his film up-beat and it shows.

    Greg and Rachel do not get along for the most part of the film. Their awkward meeting serves to emphasize the point. At one point, Rachel tells him off and at another, Greg freaks out at her. But at the end of the film, Greg receives this ‘grateful’ letter from her thanking him for all the good he had done for her.  Where did all this amicability suddenly come from?

    At one point, the script calls for the narrator to tell a lie. “Rachel does not die at the end of the film”, Greg’s voice narrates. And the title; ‘the part that comes after all the other parts” also illustrate how desperate the film is trying to be off-beat while failing to make sense at the same time. The explanation of the reason Greg calls Earl his co-worker and not his friend also makes little sense.

    Gomex-Rejon also ends up using distorted camera shots to emphasize the weirdness of certain situations.

    When the film finally comes to an end, the film also shifts from comedy to ‘cute’ sentimentality. Still the film is geared to please the greater audience. In that the film succeeds, judging from 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (when this review was written) and the fact that it won the 2015 Sundance Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qfmAllbYC8

    A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE

    (Sweden/Norway/France/Germany 2014) ****

    Directed by Roy Andersson

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    The odd title of this art film, informs the audience exactly what is to be expected from the last of Andersson’s Living trilogy on human beings. The pigeon of the said title is seen in the film’s opening scene. It is not a live one, but a stuffed one by a taxidermist perching on a branch in a museum staring down at the odd human beings that have come to visit. The film quickly moves to the next segment which is one of three entitled “Meetings with Death”.

    The first is one of an old man dying of a heart attack opening the cork of a wine bottle while the wife, unknowingly continues to prepare dinner in the adjoining kitchen. The second short vignette has a old woman on her hospital bed, sadly screaming as her sone pull away her purse that she believes she can take to heaven with her valuables. The third has a man dead on a luxury ship after paying for his dinner at the chip’s cafeteria. Those resent question who will want his shrimp sandwich and beer. 

    Andersson’s film is a serious of vignettes all shot in a distance in which the characters move in and out of the frame. Static camera with wide compositions is Andersson’s approach in his stylized reality. It is also appropriate to his theme in which human beings travel in and out of life’s fateful moments. The stories are short but accurately reflect the absurdity of life.

    In an interview as outlined in the press notes, Andersson said that his films are inspired by paintings. In Bruegel’s painting entitled Hunters In The Snow, villagers are skating on a frozen lake in a valley while hunters and a dog return from a hunt as portrayed in the foreground. Above them, perched on the naked branches of a tree are four birds as if speculating what the humans below are doing and why they are so busy. In this film, the four birds are transformed by Andersson to the stuffed pigeon.

    The film is at times, sad, funny, observant, insightful and absurdly relevant. The humour is more dead pan than subtle, often revealing real truths about life. An example is the story of the two travelling salesmen, the two appearing at various points in the film. Their first appearance show them trying to sell 3 gadgets that they believe would add humour and meaning to the buyer. One is a mask of a one toothed man, the other vampire teeth and the third just as ridiculous. There attempt is simultaneously serious, sad and absurd, the sequence ending hilariously when one scares a female while wearing the mask. The film’s most poignant and arguable moment has a wife comfort her husband as they share a cigarette while glaring out the window of the house. This is the film’s prized scene.

    Andersson’s film is a brilliant compilation that entertains while forcing his audience to, like the pigeon reflect on existence. A clever film that would just be as rewarding on repeated viewings. The film deservedly won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/104770932

    SLOW WEST (UK/New Zealand 2015) ****

    Directed by John Maclean

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    A hit at Sundance, SLOW DANCE marks another western after THE SALVATION made elsewhere outside the U.S. THE SALVATION was completely Danish while SLOW WEST is a U.K. New Zealand co-production shot in both the U.K. and Australia. The fascination of the old west is apparent in both films, especial in SLOW WEST.

    SLOW WEST is director John MaClean’s debut feature and a very impressive one. He captures the spirit of the old west. And it is not a good one. There is a fantastic shoot-out ending with a plot twist and a message to boot. Part love-story SLOW WEST is more a tale of adventure and coming-of-age.

    The story’s main character is a young lad, Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee of THE ROAD) who leaves Scotland for the old west in search of his true love Rose (Caren Pistorius). Rose and her father had accidentally killed someone in Scotland (Jay's fault) and had escaped Scotland to the U.S. But naive Jay is no match for the outlaws in the dangerous west. He encounters a drifter Silas (Michael Fassbender who also executive produced the film) who he pays to protect him. Unknown to Jay, Silas has a hidden agenda. He is a bounty hunter and wants to find Rose and her father to claim a reward as they are both wanted by the law. Maclean’s script (he also wrote the film) takes the pair through different adventures, one with a meeting with his former but deadly acquaintance, Payne (Ben Mendelson). Payne is an over-the-top character that goes around wearing a fur coat. There is a climatic showdown that is impressively shot in a field of wheat.

    The two main characters are well written and play well off each other on screen. They are of contrasting personalities needing each other. Jay has to be protected. Silas is an old west-smart gun sharp shooter. On the other hand. Jay know what he wants in life while Silas is the lonely drifter needing to find purpose in life.

    The climatic shoot out in the house by the wheat field could be deemed a classic. Payne’s men hiding in the long wheat are forced out by burning of the fields. The scene is both exciting and stunningly shot.

    As the title might implies, SLOW WEST might move at a slow pace, but director Maclean knows what he wants and tells his tale cinematically. There are bouts of humour that provide keen observations of the time and the land, such as Jay’s idea of drying clothes and his discovery of a bullet hole in a used suit for sale.

    But the film is not without a few flaws. The switch of voiceovers to and fro between Jay and Silas is a bit disorientating. But they do provide alternative points of view. The flashbacks finally tell what happened that led to Jay and Rose leaving Scotland, but Maclean keeps the audience in the dark for a while.

    But for a low budget first film, John Maclean has delivered a handsomely shot and compelling film complete with a good plot and interesting characters with character development. SLOW WEST is also very entertaining and a definite winner!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFfsTsdJfF8

    THE WOLFPACK (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Crystal Moselle

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    A documentary is often as interesting as its subject.

    The WOLFPACK that won the Documentary award at Sundance has one of the strangest subject matter captured on film.

    THE WOLFPACK is seven homeschooled children (6 brothers and 1 sister) isolated in an apartment in lower east side Manhattan by their father. They learn about the world from movies which they hold an extensive collection. When one of them escapes, the family unit eventually breaks down. THE WOLFPACK is an extremely disturbing film about good intentions gone desperately wrong.

    Director Crystal Moselle chanced upon them on the street, became friends with them and made this documentary about them.

    One wishes the film would put in more perspective into the story. More homeschooling examples could be given, offering both successes and other failures. Despite following the family around, interviewing the various family members including the father, the film is as secluded as the family itself. The film could have also gone into what initiated the idea for the father to seclude the family and what his background is or where he came from. The only hint the audience has is that the father knows the ancient language of Sanskrit.

    But it is the strangeness and curiosity of anyone on the subject matter that keeps the film going and the film’s faults overlooked. Moselle’s interview of the mother proves the most insightful of the situation. Her interview with the father provides the reason for the mess, though he would consider it a success. But when one of the sons turns on him, and is unable to forgive him, the situation says something about imposing ones rules over ones family. Though f***ed up, the sons all look pretty col walking about in their trend coats and Ray-Ban dark glasses RESERVOIR DOGS style. They especially log this film and imitate a lot of the films they watch. The audience ends up feeling sympathetic for the mother and children but much less for the stern father.

    The films ends with a son making movie about a window that show different temperaments like anger, happiness and sadness passing by. In a way, this is what has happening to THE WOLFPACK. Imprisoned in their apartment, they only see the world go by through the window. The film ends on a bright note, which is good considering al the bad that he situation could have become.

    Trailer: https://www.yahoo.com/movies/wolfpack-trailer-documentary-sundance-2015-imagine-118948276802.html

     

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence and Slow West

    Drama: Slow West

    Action: Mad Max: Fury Road

    Animation: When Marnie Was There

    Foreign Language: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

    Comedy : Spy

    Best documentary: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

  • This Week's Film Reviews (June 5, 2015)

    ENTOURAGE, SPY (both early openings on Wednesday) and INSIDIOUS 3 are the big ones opening this week.  Watch out for HUNGRY HEARTS an excellent psychological suspense drama.

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    FILM REVIEWS:

    ALOFT (Canada/France/Spain 2013) **

    Directed by Claudia Llosa

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    ALOFT is Peruvian director Claudia Llosa’s follow up to her Golden Bear winning THE MILK OF SORROW. Llosa is known for her stunningly shot cinematography and lyrical films.

    ALOFT follows the same fashion as her other films. Shot in icy landscapes of an Arctic Circle setting, there are scenes of beauty like the underwater scenes of a frozen sea and thought provoking words like going for darkness instead of the light for safety.

    ALOFT follows a desperate mother, Nana Kunning (Jennifer Connelly) who has two sons, one of whom is dying of cancer. She follows faith healers to save her son though she ends up losing him in an accident. She is also suspected to be a faith healer after she cures a girl’s sight after she touches her eyes. Interwoven into this tale is her other son, Ivan’s (Cillian Murphy) together with another French reporter, Jannia (Melanie Laurent) search for her.

    Llosa’s film is confusing, annoying and a narrative mess. For one, she requires the audience to figure out the plot that moves at a snail’s pace. Llosa does not make it easy either. The audience will be trying to figure out then plot right to the last reel. She tells her story intercutting different times and stories without offering any explanations whatsoever. One could argue that is sometimes worth working for ones pleasure of enjoying a film, but this is pushing the limit. 

    There are also loopholes in the plot. Does Nana rely possess any healing powers? The training of the hawks really has nothing to do with the story but provide metaphors. And when it is revealed that Jannia is also searching for a miracle to be healed, one can only wonder what could get worse for the film.

    Llosa’s film ends up in a climax where Ivan loses it, screaming at the top of his lungs at Nana which could be described as shameless cheap melodrama. One cannot blame the actors like Connelly and Murphy who do their best but are are hampered by the awful script.

    ALOFT ends up as a meaningless artsy exercise, in which it is best to stay all aloof from the movie.

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/90206863

    BERKSHIRE COUNTY (Canada 2014) ***

    Directed by Audrey Cummings

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    At a Halloween party, Kylie Winters (Alysa King) dresses as Little Red Riding Hood but gets caught on a video giving her boyfriend (Aaron Chartrand) a blow job. Everyone in school knows. She is bullied and beaten up. 

    The premise of the film has her babysit at an isolated country mansion on Halloween night. When a small boy in a pig mask appears at the door trick-or-treating, Kylie's night transforms into a horrifying and violent cat-and-mouse game.  She must go beyond what she ever thought possible if she and the children are to survive the night. This is actually quite a good slasher film. It bears similarities to many classic horror films with a difference. For one, the Kylie character is like CARRIE without the telekinetic powers. In this film, she has to use her human instincts to survive and prove herself. 

    At one point in the film when she she running away from the killers, her blow job boyfriend shows up. She has now to depend on this dick to save her. Hilarious at parts and totally enjoyable.  Also love the part when Kylie’s mother (Amy Winters) tells her daughter off.

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/110957989

    DARK STAR: H.R. GIGER’S WORLD (Switzerland 2014) ***
    Directed by Belinda Sallin

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    The dark documentary on H.R. Giger is a free flowing one, illustrating the work and life of the artist that garnered world acclaim after winning the Oscar for his work on ALIEN.

    If the film moves slowly and does not reveal much on the man, part of the reason is the man himself. Giger was in flailing health when the doc was made, evident by his slow movements whenever he has to move or speak. Thus, the interviews with him present are short so that most of the information is derived from his entourage, who are also interviewed.

    But it is not the man alone that is fascinating. It is his work and influenced factors. Director Sallin spends a fair amount of screen time showing his work, including his masks, sculptors at home and also on the set of ALIEN. What is shown on screen is pretty dark and scary just as the unknown is. Giger attributes his dreams and LSD usage to have influenced his work.

    If at the end of the documentary, nothing much has been determined about Giger’s family or youth, one can complain that Sallin’s film has missed all these out. But the film is uncompromising in the fact that it does not want to prejudice people’s view of the man. Shot in German and in English.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1MXYaQA04U

    ENTOURAGE (USA 2015) **1/2

    Directed by Doug Ellin

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    The much anticipated feature film version of the 8 season HBO series is a difficult project. It has to satisfy its fans as well satisfy non-fans as a stand-alone film. It succeeds in a way in both but the film lacks the hilarity that is expected from a Hollywood comedy that pokes fun at the Hollywood film-making machine.

    The film reunites the show's original cast, led by Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara and Jeremy Piven. Movie star Vincent Chase (Grenier), together with his boys, Eric (Connolly), Turtle (Ferrara) and Johnny (Dillon), are back...and back in business with super agent-turned-studio head Ari Gold (Piven).

    The film begins where the last episode in the last HBO season left off. Ari is living in Florence with his wife, both dissatisfied with the new life. Vincent is breaking up with his fiancee. Eric is supportive of his ex who is about to deliver a baby. To those unfamiliar with the series, it really does not matter. The film can begin as it it with all those beginnings. And no one will notice either.

    Of the entire ENTOURAGE cast, the best performances are from Piven, Dillon and Haley Joel Osment (the boy who sees dead people in THE SIXTH SENSE) as Travis, the most obnoxious rich son of a Texas tycoon (Billy Bob Thornton) who one would just want to strangle. But the interaction of the actors work really well, which helps lift the film above its flaws. An added bonus is the list of cameos (Liam Neeson, Gary Busey, Pharrell Williams, Mike Tyson, Bob Saget, David Arquette, Mark Wahlberg et al.) who appear at various points in the film. The funniest performance comes from Korean Rex Lee playing the actor planning his perfect gay wedding.

    The film displays both the absurdity and the glamour of Hollywood. Everyone is drop dead gorgeous with buffed bodies, both male and female. The music during the parties are top notch.

    The chief complaint for this comedy is that it is just not funny enough. Otherwise, the film does pretty well. Ellin does a surprisingly good job at poking fun at Hollywood. 

    It is a pity ENTOURAGE does not reach the full potential that it could. Still, it is entertaining, despite it not being that funny and has enough material to satisfy the HBO ENTOURAGE fans.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vz2HyCgUWh4

    HUNGRY HEARTS (Italy 2014) ****
    Directed by Saverio Costanzo

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    Though a complete Italian production, HUNGRY HEARTS is set in a New York apartment and shot entirely in English with the lead actor being American. But the lead actress and director are Italian. HUNGRY HEARTS is another assured feature from director Costanzo who have made successful features like IN MEMORY OF ME and THE SOLITUDE OF PRIME NUMBERS.

    The film traces the complete relationship of a young married couple. The first meeting between the gregarious Jude (Adam Driver) and the shy, withdrawn Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) occurs when they are trapped together in a Chinese restaurant washroom. This is a lengthy 15-minute segment that is one of the most hilarious romantic meetings ever captured on film.

    Jude and Mina fall helplessly in love. The wedding dance is shot to the tune of “What a Feeling” from FLASHDANCE which turns out to be a real emotions lifter. What follows after is a downright contrast of unbearable emotional drama.

    The problem arises with the birth of their baby. Mina wants nothing artificial for the baby, not allowing the baby to go out into the sunlight or feeding on meat. The baby’s growth is stagnant. Jude is prevented from bringing the baby to the doctor. So, Jude steals the baby away and feeds him protein secretly. Mina finds out, of course, and Jude eventually kidnaps their son to be looked after by his mother. (Roberta Maxwell)

    HUNGRY HEARTS captures the audience’s attention and never lets go. The result is a compelling and frightening account of the couple’s troubles. Coupled with it is the fate of the baby that could result in stunted growth both physically and mentally.

    Costanzo shoots certain scenes as if the characters are seen from the reflection of ‘distorted’ mirrors. The distorted shapes of Mina heightens the monster that she is. Though Jude slaps her across the face in the film, one would take Jude’s side and not Mina’s for Mina is shown as a total wreck of a mother, insane and unreasonable. Both lead actors are extremely good, both winning top acting prizes at festivals. Rohwacher is so good that the audience is ready at any point of the film to kill her.

    The film occasionally feels like a reversal of ROSEMARY’S BABY for the claustrophobic look of the NYC apartments and for the mother having no one to turn to, even though she is the crazed one here.

    The one complaint is the unevenness of the film’s mood as it shifts from hilarity to romance to horror too quickly But director Costanzo could be going for contrast of mood in the film.

    It is hard to find a happy ending for the couple that appears to have no feasible solution in sight. But the film has a satisfactory ending in a sense as the baby survives. HUNGRY HEARTS is a truly scary suspenseful thriller that could very well come true for any couple. A surprise gem of a horror film!

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wc7PexA5P8E

    LIVE FROM NEW YORK! (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Bao Nguyen

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    LIVE FROM NEW YORK! is an affectionate tribute to Saturday Night Live (SNL) - all forty years from the beginning to the present.

    The film has several aims. One is to recount the history of SNL, another to provide a taste of the best skits and the the next to relate of the importance of the program to America.

    Using archival footage, the first group that includes the likes of the late John Belushi and Gilda Radner with the then young producer, Lorne Michaels is shown in all its glory and action. It is emphasized that the show is live, which it holds, perhaps with maybe a few seconds delay. Whether this is true, it is not revealed. SNL is touted as the best of American television. The best skits are shown, many with the founders like Candice Bergen and Chevy Chase doing a spoof of TV news. Here, is related the reason for SNL’s success. The contents are relevant to current affairs, be it then Watergate, The Vietnam War or politics.

    For those who love SNL and the younger generation new to it, the film paints a rosy picture, that SNL is ‘the’ show of shows. It briefly mentions of the time when the show lost its edge and humour. SNL, current though it was and is, often falls flat and is often unfunny.

    Like SNL itself, the film runs out of steam quite fast despite its short running time of less than 90 minutes. Still picking the best of SNL and watching them is still quite a treat, as many are still fresh in their humour.

    This is a special one-night only Cineplex Entertainment release of LIVE FROM NEW YORK! across Canada on June 10th.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOHozEtFPzM

    PATCH TOWN (Canada 2014) **
    Directed by Andrew Nackman

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    A few years back, a short film PATCH TOWN debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was a hit that led to a full fledged feature production on its theme of cabbage patch babies. The film is as weird as its premise, but weirdness has to be put into perspective to develop a good movie.

    Little babies are harvested in cabbages and transformed into toy dolls for little girls. When the girls overgrow their dolls and childhood, the dolls are stolen back and the babies ‘re-educated’ so that the past is forgotten. However, some still do remember the past.

    After years in a loving home, Jon (Rob Ramsay), a toy, was forgotten, deserted and ultimately betrayed by his adoptive mother, Bethany (Zoie Palmer). He returns to live a sad life as a worker on the line. With each new birth, Jon laments the days when life was good and he was loved. Jon learns that the evil child catcher, Yuri (Julian Richings), has discovered they stole a new born baby from the factory floor, he moves into action to escape the oppressive city and find a safe home for his wife and child. With each day, Jon and Mary find the safety and sense of home they have always longed for, but it's not enough. Jon is torn between saving the mother he has always dreamed or saving his own family.

    Director Nackman turns the weirdness factor several notches by making his film part musical by adding rock-opera like songs crooned by most of the cast. But the songs are less memorable than anything else and could have been left out without much effect. But the special effects (especially the grey fluid oozing out of the cabbages as the babies are harvested) are good as in the depiction of the factory as well as PATCH TOWN. It is clear that the look of Jean -Pierre Canet’s DELICATESSEN is sought for in the film.

    But despite the inventiveness, the film’s story plods into predictability. Jon eventually discovers that his family is with his present wife, Mary and the baby and not with the one he had lost.

    The cast try their darn best to invoke laughs. Richings too, but with little effect, thanks to the unfunny script. But the best laughs come from actor Suresh John who plays a Pakistani cab driver. John utilizes his stereotyped character to the fullest, complete with accent and behaviour.

    The film contains no real message except maybe the family one, where love is to be found wherever one is. One wishes the film could have been better for all the effort put in.

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/83271965

    SOME KIND OF LOVE (Canada 2014) ***
    Directed by Thomas Burstyn

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    The title of the documentary SOME KIND OF LOVE refers to to the unlikely love that exists between the two siblings, Yolanda Sonnabend and her brother Joseph. Despite their constant complaining about each other, Joseph says on camera that he cannot leave her as she cannot live on her own. He takes care of her whether he likes it or not. And at the end of the film when Yolanda is in her advanced stage of Alzheimer’s, Joseph is the only face she recognizes.

    Documentaries are often made on famous, talented people. But when SOME KIND OF LOVE opens, it appears weird that the subject is an old lady, the aunt of the filmmaker who lives in an uncared house in a posh neighbourhood in London, England. Soon it is revealed that she is quite a well known painter, Yolanda Sonnbend, whose paintings are featured in the film. The camera then turns to her brother, again later revealed to be a famous doctor. Then like a fictional film, supporting characters appear like the live-in handyman who cares for the two. Finally, the camera turn on the director himself with his acrimony for his absent brother finally resolved. Burstyn shows that intriguing characters make fascinating documentaries just as famous subjects do.

    The film also works on many different levels. Like Yolanda the artist and her brother, Joseph the scientist, the film contrasts art and science. On one hand is the absolute artist, whose art comes first never putting herself or anything else before her paintings, sculpture and whatever else. On the other is the brother who works without monetary compensation as a medical doctor. Having spearheaded the use of condoms in the A.I.D.s era as well as being the first to isolate the virus, he is a famous doctor known also for his humanity. “He is my personal Moses’” says an A.I.D.s patient to the camera. As expected, the two do not get along. “He does not love me,” the sister says.

    Other issues on display are ageing and acrophobia. In one sad scene, Yolanda lies in bed staring at the walls remarking that she has no desire to do anything else any more. This is just 2 years after she had designed the stage production set and costume design of the ballet Swan Lake for the Royal Opera House in Covent Gardens. She also suffers from Alzheimer’s, as admitted by Joseph. Yolanda often stays in the house weeks at a time. There is a filmed sequence when she reluctantly leaves the house.

    The film introduces some tension when Joseph forbids Burstyn to film his sister out of his respect for her. Burstyn argues with him, as revealed on camera in a very moving segment. Joseph finally relents, after Burstyn secretly films her, without his complaining.

    As an additional bonus, director Burstyn also ponders the philosophy of the camera. As illustrated in the subjects of this film, when the audience thinks the camera has captured the essence of its subjects, Burstyn’s camera slips into another shadow, revealing another angle. Much is revealed in this otherwise complex documentary, simple though it might look on the surface.

    There is much to be informed and entertained in SOME KIND OF LOVE.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZp9lTwfhOU

    SUNSHINE SUPERMAN (USA/Norway 2014) ***
    Directed by Marah Strauch

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    As heart racing as the sport itself, SUNSHINE SUPERMAN is the heart-racing documentary portrait of Carl Boenish, the father of the BASE (Buildings, Antennas, Structures, Earth) jumping movement. A variation of sky diving, Carl engaged in spectacular and dangerous feats of foot-launched human flights from cliffs and high buildings.

    Carl claims to be foremost a filmmaker/photographer and second a skydiver. It aids in the making of the doc as he likely had lots of footage already available for the film. The first third of the film sees gorgeous aerial photography, like the scene with his team mid-air wearing bright colours holding hands in aerial formation.

    The film then takes an odd turn. What might seem irrelevant at first, on the meeting of Carl and Jean, his wife turns the film into a beautiful love story. Jean, starts the sport herself and the two make an awesome team. Director Marsh Strauch, being a female brings a tender touch to a doc set in a male oriented world.

    The film also delves briefly into Carl’s principles, on how he is only controlled by nature’s and not man’s rules. He is deemed paranoid and radical but Carl does not mind that if it is truth that he stands for. Strauch brings out comfortably both the exterior and inside of the man. The film also devotes a fair amount of time to his wife, Jean who takes over during the last part of the film.

    The highlights in Carl’s wife are highlighted in the film - his marriage to Jean and the legalization agreement for BASE jumping by the rangers in Yosemite National Park. The soundtrack includes a few uplifting sons to go with the flow.

    SUNSHINE SUPERMAN is a U.S. Norwegian co-production as one of the key jumps occur in Norway. Carl has scouted a peak that would register as the largest jump from top to the base. The jump is shot in all its glory forming what is close to the climax of the film.

    The film takes a dramatic turn towards the last 20 minutes. What this turn is will not be revealed as it would be a spoiler. But despite the turn, the film drags towards the end. Still SUNSHINE SUPERMAN celebrates man as a free individual that should be free to enjoy life for what it is. Who would imagine that a boy who had suffered from polio would come his far?

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CsJW3_NqJ4

     

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: Hungry Hearts

    Drama: Hungry Hearts

    Action: Mad Max: Fury Road

    Animation: When Marnie Was There

    Foreign Language: Saint Laurent

    Comedy : Spy

    Best documentary: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

     

  • This Week's Film Reviews (May 29, 2015)

    SAN ANDREAS opens!  Also opening are ALOHA, WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE, I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS and SURVIVOR.  

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    TIFF Cinematheque continues its series on Georgian Cinema.

    Inside Out LGBT Film Festival ending in Toronto

    FILM REVIEWS:

    ALOHA (USA 2015) ***
    Directed by Cameron Crowe

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    Cameron Crowe’s ALOHA pays tribute to the natives of Hawaii just as the George Clooney vehicle did in THE DESCENDANTS.  in ALOHA, the Americans need the sacred burial lands of the natives in order to build a space facility.

    So into the picture comes Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) working for shady, playboy billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray). Brian is a defines contractor assigned to oversee the launch of a weapons satellite from Hawaii, thus contributing to the militarization of space.  His guide is Captain Allison Ng (Emma Stone), who Brian eventually falls in love with. But Brian has been in Hawaii before. His ex-girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams) who is married to Woody (John Krasinski) forms a solid side plot to the story.

    But ALOHA is a Hollywood romantic comedy in the worse sense, despite Crowe’s occasional amusing touch. The romance begins with the couple, Brian and Allison meeting on ill terms. The usual man’s best friend role is replaced by he ex-girlfriend Tracy. The obstacle to the romance - Harlequin style, is the issue of the militarization of space. Allison believes strongly that the sky should always be free whereas Brian has to undo his contribution to the militarization to prove his love. It is all predictable fare and of course, the happy ending is there when the couple finally make up and all’s well that ends well.

    Despite the film’s shortcomings, there are some prize comedic set-ups. The best of these is the silent confrontation scene between Woody and Brian, done with subtitles. The second is the dance segment in the club with Emma Stone and Bill Murray showing the moves.

    Performance-wise, Emma Stone steals the show. The inside joke where her character is called at one point Allison A reminds one of her breakout role in EASY A. It is also odd to watch Bill Murray in the rare role of the villain. Alec Baldwin is hilarious as the very angry General Dixon as is clean-shaven Danny McBride as "Fingers".

    Despite being formulaic, ALOHA is an entertaining romantic comedy for the not too demanding audience.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3mf_ewjc7s

    I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Brett Haley

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    The title derives from the song a character, the pool cleaner, Lloyd (Martin Starr) has written and sings for Carol a 70-something widow (Blythe Danner from MEET THE PARENTS, FUTUREWORLD) at the end of the film. It is unclear, though quite likely if Lloyd wrote the song for her, but the uncertainty here and in many parts of the film is what gives Brett Haley’s film its charm.

    The story follows the life of Carol a retired schoolteacher, former singer and a longtime 20 year widow in her 70s. She enjoys a tranquil routine playing cards with close friends, keeping up her garden, and relaxing with a glass of wine. When her beloved dog, Hazel dies, there's a mournful vacuum that draws new experiences and attachments into her world. She forges a friendship with her pool guy, Lloyd and allows a pal to drag her to a speed dating shindig. And then there's the gravelly-voiced, exuberant gentleman, Bill (Sam Elliot also to be seen in the upcoming GRANDMA), who comes out of nowhere. They begin dating. Bill shows his ‘joie de vivre’ insisting not to live his life like the majority. He buys a boat and takes carol boating and fishing.

    What works here is the ease at which the incidents flow. Though occasionally slow moving, the antics of the weed-smoking and card playing group of old folks are amusing enough. The love-making scene between Bill and Carol is also done with good taste and amusement.

    Danner is winning in her role and she is the main reason the film works well. Her rendition of “Cry Me a River” at a Karaoke session marks both her character’s sadness in life and her spirit to try new ventures. But the best song is the title song which is sung imperfectly with a few flat notes but yet very earnestly with appropriate lyrics. Listening to that song alone (performed by the songwriter and dubbed into Starr’s voice) is worth the price of the film ticket. Danner is supported by an able cast including Judy Squibb (Oscar nominee in NEBRASKA), Mary Kay Place and Rhea Perlman playing her cronies.

    Nothing is expected, anything can happen. Carol’s dog dies, she gets another one. She finds another friend while one dies. And so life goes on. That perhaps is the message of the movie. Life goes on. Also opening soon is the Swedish art film A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE. I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS is perhaps the Hollywood version of a human reflecting existence.

    There are a few films made for the over-50’s. I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS is one of the better ones.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1VbBOTXzfI

    RESULTS (USA 2015) ***

    Directed by Andrew Bujalski

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    COMPUTER CHESS director Andrew Bujalski attempts a more commercial storyline in his latest love story triangle comedy/drama RESULTS while still maintaining all his quirkiness. The film deals with a story concerning real issues sprinkled with lots of keen observations and sarcasm. Occasionally witty and hilarious, RESULTS is a fine little movie that also occasionally shines.

    The setting is Tennessee with the main character, Trevor (Guy Pearce) running around like a chicken with its head chopped off and speaking with an Australian accent. Like many budding entrepreneurs, his hardly successful business is his life dream and goal, though his management of the company, a fitness facility called Power 4 Life is another matter. He forgets to deposit checks, has his employees do forms but never follows up and lets his fitness employees get the better of him. Worst of all, he has an affair and falls in love with employee Kat (Cobie Smulders) but lets her go in lieu of his business expansion plans. The script, written by Bujalski has lots of juicy potential for comedy and drama, which he blends together comfortably. He adds a third person into the picture - an unfit super-wealthy client, Danny (Kevin Corrigan) who does not know what to do with his recently inherited money. Don’t we all wish we were in his shoes? Danny also falls in love with Kat. His spur of the moment rendering of his love is both the saddest and funniest part of the film.

    Bujalski also captures the inane behaviour of many business owners. Trevor also meets a half crazy kettle drum guru Grigory (played with a German accent by Anthony Michael Hall) who is also a rival gym owner. 

    Bujalski also creates a lot of inventive comedic set-ups including a weed-smoking sequence, the many confrontational segments - Danny and ex-wife; Kat and Danny and Kat and Trevor and fitness sessions

    RESULTS is like a simpler Woody Allen film in which the characters are all real and not living in posh Manhattan apartments and cracking jokes on art, music or literature. In RESULTS, the characters live in the suburbs, argue more than joke, get angry a lot and cannot articulate their emotions half the time. Bujalski’s characters are also real life characters that fumble more than succeed, mostly due to their desperation and inadequacies. They are not perfect Hollywood characters that live in a fantasy world. It is good that the audience will be able to laugh at themselves watching similar people or acquaintances on display. 

    The result is RESULTS being a more relevant film. But unfortunately it ends like a predictable romantic comedy complete with Hollywood ending of boy getting the girl.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XoM_dM7tQvI

    SAN ANDREAS (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Brad Peyton

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    SAN ANDREAS opens this week with all the hype of a great disaster movie. The last film made solely on an earthquake was way back when in the now obsolete Sensurround System in the film called EARTHQUAKE starring Charlton Heston. 

    SAN ANDREAS directed by JOURNEY 2: MYSTERIOUS ISLAND’s Brad Peyton which also starred Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson is an earthquake disaster movie. Like Tom Cruise’s WAR OF THE WOLRDS, it is a father looking after his child but this case a teen daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario) in the midst of the chaos. Daddario screams most of the time, looking like the typical scantily clad female stalked in a slasher killer film. A subplot involving the hero, Chief Ray Gaines (Johnson) trying to patch up his marriage to wife Emma (Carla Gugino) is silly enough to have the whole film geared to it. Unsurprisingly, she is currently seeing a man, who is an asshole. What else can ever be new in a cliched plot with well used incidents in a terrible script by Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes, Allan Loeb and Carlton Case. Never mind the line “We Will get through this”, the perhaps most used line in cinema script history proudly displayed in a poster at the end of the film. Also, lines such as “We will find her, I promise”, or “We’ll get out, I promise” abound. 

    The special effects and the CGI (though I always despise CGI) look particularly real. But how many times does one want to see the Golden Gate Bridge destroyed with all the vehicles on it swept into the water? The best scene is a helicopter rescue of a girl stuck on a ledge in a San Fernando Valley fault at the start of the film. Nothing else in the film can match this start. The film also teases the audience with her talking to the cell and digging into her handbag while never getting into an accident until landslide pushes her car into the fault. The film goes downhill right from there, pretty fast.

    The cast of relative unknowns fare better. Now action star Dwayne Johnson has proven himself as capable an actor as a worker on his biceps. He does his best with the sorry script which is so lazy, it also discards any opportunity for humour.

    It is one disaster set-up after another that turn so ridiculously unbelievable (driving a boat into a skyscraper) that it turns boring quite soon.

    As this is a family film, no blood, broken body parts or graphic violence is shown on screen adding to the film’s boredom. The intercut story of Professor Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) and his crew of students predicting earthquakes is also highly unimaginative.

    SAN ANDREAS turns out to be quite a disaster instead of quite the disaster film.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bz9e0PGSDeU

    SURVIVOR (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Lewis McTeigue

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    Milla Jovovich plays SURVIVOR, Kate. Kate, a Foreign Service Officer newly posted to the US Embassy in London (working on Visas), United Kingdom is on the run after she is framed for crimes she did not commit. She is is chased by not only the police but by yes, what the script calls the most wanted assassin in the world named The Watchmaker (Pierce Brosnan) who attempted to eliminate her during one of his bombings. 

    It is a catch and mouse chase from London to New York City.

    But what transpires is a Milla Jovovich vehicle similar to her RESIDENT EVIL films. So,leave credibility to the wind.

    Australian director McTeigue’s film shoots an impressive opening with chopper crash amidst a takedown somewhere in Afghanistan that serves as an introduction to the story. 

    It turns out that one of the American men in the chopper is the son of Kate’s colleague, the chief of the Visa applications (Robert Forster) in the Embassy. He gets blackmailed to approve visas for terrorists applying to the U.S.

    But the film goes downhill from here. In fact the more the film progresses, the more outrageous it gets, often with large loopholes in the plot, that the script by Philip Shelby assumes the audience will fill in. One big loophole is what the Taliban has to do with the central plot of exploding a bomb that will kills hundred of Americans on New Year’s Eve in NYC. The only other time the Taliban is involved is at the beginning of the film in Afghanistan. All the other villains are east European.

    The one most ridiculous segment has Kate’s boss (James d’Arcy) left for dead after a shoot out in the middle of the film, only to have him standing up as if nothing has happened giving Kate a congratulations telephone call at the end of the film. The other is the rip-off Hitchcock NORTH BY NORTHWEST like airport scene in which Kate is caught on camera holding a fired pistol after the victim collapses.

    Kate plays a super efficient agent, yet her character does not have the idea of using make-up to cover up the scratches she obtained in an explosion when she is hunted down by the police. 

    The one good thing of the film is the lack of romance. There is a hint of homosexual tension whenever Kate meets her best friend working at the art gallery - a slant likely ripped off from Hitchcock’s REBECCA. The musical score is annoying in the way it always starts playing when the mood of the film changes, to ensure the audience feels the right way.

    The film has a modern look - especially of London. Sights of flashy cars, fancy restaurants serving fancy good (the Gaston), the Overground and the London Eye bring the film to the new century. The impressive cast that includes Emma Thompson, Angela Bassett and Dylan McDermott unfortunately cannot lift the film above its failures. Pierce Brosnan's role as the watchmaker is his worst since his singing debut in MAMMA MIA!

    But one thing going for it are the unintentional laughs and a few intentional ones. Sometimes it is hard to tell which are intentional. “The Longer she lives, the more men die” uttered by the U.S. ambassador (Angela Bassett) is one of them. The film, though ridiculous in storyline, is still a bit entertaining to watch just for the sake of laughs. 

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtQR5KGJiQk

    WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE (Japan 2014) ****

    Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi

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    WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE is the latest and perhaps the last animated film to come out of Japan’s financially struck Studio Ghibli, following the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki, the man responsible for the studio’s successes like SPIRITED AWAY, PONYO and HOWL’S MOVING TO CASTLE, to name my 3 favourites. Director Yonebayashi has worked as a key animator in quite a few Ghibli films and the spirit of the films is clearly felt in MARNIE. The story is a fantasy involving a mansion, ghosts, illness and romance - elements often found in Miyazaki’s films.

    Based on the British novel of the same name by Joan G. Robinson, WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE, follows 12-year old Anna spending a summer with relatives in a seaside town to recover from her asthma problems.  Anna discovers an abandoned mansion, dilapidated and overgrown, across a seaside marsh and wades across the marsh to investigate it. She dreams of the mansion well lit and sees a blond girl, Marnie. Marnie tells Anna she is not dreaming. They form a close bond - two lonely girls, as Marnie is often left on her own by her parents in the large mansion only to be bullied by the servants. But reality is not all it seems and there is more behind the story of Marnie. The film is strong on story, which results in a animated family film , good for children too, but short on action and comedy.  This is perhaps a good recommendation as a family film as what goes for the film is a good solid story.

    Compared to the other Ghibli films, MARNIE is exceptionally animated. Every scene is like a Japanese painting. The scenes with water, like the rain and streams are exceptional.

    Anna is animated with a girl with very short hair, so thats she looks like a boy in the film. The reason likely for Anna to keep her hair short is for ease in her convalescence. 

    The story contains magical moments like a hidden diary with missing pages that reveal a secret. But the story is a very sad yet beautiful one, with a wonderful twist in the plot. The characters are colourful like the silent fisherman Toichi who finally speaks at the end, the plump aunt who fusses about Anna and of course the leads Anna and Marnie.

    I saw the original Japanese version with subtitles. The dubbed version has the voices of Hailee Steinfeld as Anna, Kieran Shipka as Marnie, with stars like Vanessa L.Williams, Catherine O’Hara, Geena Davis, John C. Reilly, Kathy Bates and Ellem Burstyn also lending their talents. The film’s Japanese title translates directly into “Memories of Marnie”.

    WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE ranks as one of the best of the Studio Ghibli films. One cannot ask for a better animated feature this year.

    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCAjMGl1mJg

    BEST BETS:

    Best Film Opening: When Marnie Was There

    Drama: '71

    Action: Mad Max: Fury Road

    Animation: When Marnie Was There

    Foreign Language: Saint Laurent

    Comedy : What We Do in the Shadows

    Best documentary: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

  • Inside Out LGBT Film Festival 2015

    INSIDE OUT LGBT Film Festival 2015

    The 25th year of INSIDE OUT runs from Thursday May 21 for 10 days till May 31. Tickets are already on sale. 

    The festival opens with Lily Tomlin in GRANDMA and closes with the Canadian entry, PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL MONOGAMIST by award-winning co-writers/directors John Mitchell and Christina Zeidler.  Francis Ozon’s THE NEW GIRLFRIEND will be a treat, showcasing again the French director's taler for drama and comedy.

    New this year the Festival presents Spotlight on Canada, a program that highlights the latest narrative and documentary features from Canqueer talent. Highlights includes Sophie Deraspe’s THE AMINA PROFILE, a suspenseful documentary on a Montreal woman’s plight to save her kidnapped girlfriend in Syria; Erica Tremblay’s IN THE TURN, a documentary about a mother’s fierce love for her transgendered daughter and their mutual love of roller derby; the North American Premiere of Alon Kol’s TRANSFIXED, a compelling film documenting the struggle a transgendered woman faces when trying to have gender reassignment surgery; and Maureen Bradley’s TWO 4 ONE, a romantic comedy about unconventional pregnancy.

    The International Showcase, a showcase of favourites from the international festival circuit will entertain, educate, and inspire audiences. Highlights include Mark Christopher’s 54: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT, a reconstruction of the original 1998 film that includes 45 minutes of footage that was removed from the original theatrical version; the latest film from Marco Kreuzpaintner, director of festival favourite SUMMER STORM, returns with his new heartfelt comedy COMING IN; the North American Premiere of Roberto Cuzzillo’s DON’T ACCEPT DREAMS FROM STRANGERS which tells the timely story of blossoming love between an Italian competitive swimmer and his translator in Putin’s Russia; and the latest from award-winning queer-filmmaker and curator Jenni Olson, THE ROYAL ROAD.

    For the complete schedule of films check the festival’s website at:

    www.insideout.ca.

    Capsule Reviews of Selected Films:

    EISENSTEIN IN GUANAJUATA (Netherlands/Mexico/Belgium/Finland 2015) ***
    Directed by Peter Greenaway

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    Combined with stunning sets, art direction, costumes and period atmosphere are shit, vomit and explicit sex. This is Peter Greenaway (THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER, DROWNING BY NUMBERS). His latest target is the great Russian director Sergei Eisenstein who fresh off his success of Battleship Potemkin, travelled to Guanajuato to direct his film Que viva México in 1931. While encountering a new culture, Eisenstein (Elmer Back)is assigned a handsome tour guide Palomino (Luis Alberti), a married man who has no qualms introducing Eisenstein to the pleasures of the siesta hour and anal sex. And when Greenaway does gay sex, it is a no holds barred affair. The film is a free-flowing interpretation of Eisenstein’s stay in Mexico till the day is forced to leave and forced off the picture. Not for everyone’s taste, his film is still a feast for the eyes.

    EVERLASTING LOVE (AMOR ETERNAL)(Spain 2014) *
    Directed by Marcal Fores

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    Marcal Fores’ (ANIMALS) EVERLASTING LIVE begins with a group of youths discussing about love - eternal love being one aspect of it. The film looks like a documentary on love before the film shifts, after the opening credits to a fictional tale about a teacher banging his student in his chinese class. The setting is Barcelona. The teacher is middle-aged Carlos and the student is Toni. After cruising in a nearby park, Carlos’ favourite haunt, Carlos gives Toni a ride home. Torrid sex starts. Despite a murder in the park, the two continue their relationship. Do not expect a film of the sophistication of STRANGER BY THE LAKE (L’INCONNU DU LAC), a French film also about murder that takes place in a cruising park. This one is a shallow film that thrives on dirty sex that really makes no sense at all, especially the last reel.

    FOURTH MAN OUT (USA 2015) **1/2

    Directed by Andrew Nackman

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    The coming-out theme in a gay movie is a well trodden path. In FOURTH MAN OUT, the premise of a car mechanic in a small, working class town coming out of the closet to his three unsuspecting, blue-collar best friends (played by Jon Garrus, Chord Overstreet and Parker Young) is a slight variation of the coming-out theme. The film focuses on the three friends and not on the gay character, Adam (Evan Todd). But this novelty is insufficient to lift the film above predictability, stereotyping and lame drama. The four unknowns try their best though there is nothing really demanding in their roles. The film is mildly funny and a good time waster for those unfussy about their moves.

    GRANDMA (USA 2015) ***1/2

    Directed by Paul Weitz

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    After grandmother Elle (Tomlin) has broken up with her younger girlfriend, Olivia (Judy Greer), her granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner) appears at her doorstep asking for money for an abortion. Elle has none. They both ride together making many visits in order to come up with the money before the evening abortion appointment. The wise-cracking Tomlin delivers an honest, hilarious and dramatic performance without resorting to cheap theatrics. The film is divided into 6 sections each headlined under titles from ‘endings’ to ‘apes’ to dragonflies’. Weitz covers a dozen or so different issues that include family relationships, abortion, gay relationships, responsibility, loyalties and romance. GRANDMA is a little gem, unpretentious, well-intentioned and a feel good movie. The film also contains several excellent comedic set-ups the best one being the confrontation with Cam, the unlikely, unresponsive father who finally ends up getting beaten up by grandma.

    Clip: http://deadline.com/2015/01/grandma-lily-tomlin-movie-paul-weitz-video-sundance-1201355250/

    LIMITED PARTNERSHIP (USA 2014) ***1/2
    Directed by Thomas G. Miller

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    Just as one would think gay films have run out of new themes (coming-out, gay romance, aids, senior gay coming-out, gay rights, gay marriage etc.), comes a documentary that re-visits he theme of gay rights through immigration. The film traces the trials of a couple through the period of the 70’s to the present - a 40-year period that is on film, seems as fresh now as it was then. It is the courageous love story of Filipino-American Richard Adams and his Australian husband, Anthony Sullivan. After meeting in a Los Angeles gay bar in 1971, the men became one of a handful of same-sex couples who were issued a marriage certificate in 1975 by a forward-thinking county clerk in Boulder, Colorado. But they were not allowed to remain in the United States. In an official letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, their petition was denied because they “failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.” The couple then sued to prevent Tony’s deportation – thus filing the first federal lawsuit seeking equal treatment for a same-sex marriage in U.S. history.  This is their tireless struggle that every person should feel for. Miller’s film also pays tribute to the other brave people in the story like the courageous county clerk in Boulder, Colorado who issued the marriage certificate and the immigration attorneys that fought on the couple’s behalf.  A compelling and still relevant documentary that turns into a love story at the end!

    Trailer: https://vimeo.com/95349718

    UNE NOUVELLE AMIE (A NEW GIRLFRIEND) (France 2014) ****

    Directed by François Ozon

    newgirlfriendba

    Ozon (8 FEMMES, SITCOM, THE CRIMINAL LOVERS, JEUNE & JOLIE) does Ozon and much more.  The film adapted and directed from a novel by Ozon centres on Claire (Anais Demoustier) and her late best friend’s husband, David (Romain Duris) who cross dresses. Claire develops a relationship (girly-wise) with David where they go shopping and he dresses up sexily as Virginia. They go dancing and even take off secretly on the weekends. Ozon takes his film up several levels because he is not afraid to take his material seriously but still with a pinch of very salty humour. There is sex and nudity to amuse his fans, male and female, female and female, male and male and even more…… The film gets a bit too serious towards the end with a car accident and David (or Virginia) going comatose. But like any Ozon film, a happy ending is around the corner as is a very satisfying and saucy film.

    A SINNER IN MECCA (USA/Saudi Arabia/India 2015) **

    Directed by Parvez Sharma

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    Director Parvez Sharma the director of the controversial A IHAD FOR LOVE attempt to answer the question of whether it is possible for a gay man to be a good Muslim in his new documentary A SINNER IN MECCA.  Sharma turns the camera on himself, documenting his journey on the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, which all Muslims are required to fulfill at least once in their lifetime. Sharma's journey is fraught with danger.  Homosexuality in Saudi Arabia is punishable by death, and filming at the holy sites is forbidden.  It is a very personal film, with him talking to the camera most of the time. But it is quite the chore to have to listen to him complain about everything all the time. He fusses about Islam not accepting gays but he himself has not respect for any rules. He films in religious places where it is forbidden, accepts no rules and puts down everything. There is a very disturbing scene of a live goat sacrifice that need not be seen. The film provides a cry biased negative look of Islam, eye-opening in certain areas but one cannot understand why this Sharma has continued to brace something that does not accept him.

    TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL (USA 2015) ***1/2
    Directed by Jeffrey Schwarz

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    The title comes from the tabloid magazine Confidential - a journal much feared in Hollywood as it exposed the subject so much so that his or her career could be ruined in the process. Hunter’s arrest at a gay party was one such article in the paper. TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL is the story of the actor/singer told by the star himself talking to the audience throughout the film. The film details his entire life from a boy brought up by a single mother, how he got into show business, achieved fame, lost it and came out. His romance with a star skater is also a revealed. The era of the 50’s when homosexuality was outlawed is effectively evoked as well as the nostalgia of the past and glamour of the movies. For those that were born around the time of the baby boomers, this film all bring back sweet memories of an era begone, good and bad. he segment on the death of Hunter’s old fling, Anthony Perkins is indeed sad and moving. Hunter’s take on Perkins’ marriage is both admiral and insightful. The documentary is a well-told biography, revealing, insightful and entirely entertaining.

    THOSE PEOPLE (USA 2015) **

    Directed by Joey Kuhn

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    THOSE MEN is a un-inspirational story set in Manhattan, that has been seen in movies, straight or gay before. A character falls in love while his true love is actually his best friend who happens to have the same feelings. This comedy drama includes a wealthy best friend whose father is jailed for embezzling his clients funds while he, Sebastian has a few mental issues. Charlie who has just moved in with Sebastian to offer support but falls in love with a foreign pianist,Tim. When Tim gets a job in San Francisco and Charlie plans to move away, all hell breaks lose. The main fault of the film is the main actor playing Charlie who is annoying while smiling and trying to look cool all the time, and basically a terrible actor. The supporting actor playing Sebastian, however, is awesome, resulting in the supporting character taking all the limelight from the main one. But the film is neither dramatic or funny enough.

     

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