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Film Reviews July 2012

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SIGNIS REVIEWS JULY 2012



AMAZING SPIDER MAN, The
BRAVE
CABIN IN THE WOODS
COMME UN CHEF/ THE CHEF
I AM ELEVEN
ICE AGE 4
INNKEEPERS, The
MARLEY
POLISSE
ROCK OF AGES
SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN
TAKE THIS WALTZ
TED
THAT’S MY BOY
THREE STOOGES, The
WHERE DO WE GO NOW?


THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN

US, 2012,
Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field.
Directed by Marc Webb.

Lots of pre-publicity for this ‘re-booting’ of the Spiderman franchise. Tobey Maguire did his dash in three Spiderman movies between 2002 and 2007, all very successful. So, the question does arise, why a new round of Spiderman films so soon? One of the answers is that this version gives more background to Peter Parker and his family than the previous films. It is likened to Batman Begins, giving new life to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Dark Knight blockbusters. But, Peter Parker’s origins are far less dramatic and spectacular.

We see Peter as a little boy when his parents suddenly disappear after entrusting him to his uncle and aunt (Martin Sheen and Sally Field). Then we find him as a student in his final year at High School, a rather diffident young man, of kindly disposition, looking a bit of a nerd – but he defends students from bullies and wins the sympathy of Gwen Stacey, popular at school (Emma Stone). So far, so ordinary enough, with Andrew Garfield creating a new image of Peter Parker which we are able to accept pretty soon.

Peter is a wiz at science as was his father whose satchel and papers he finds. He also tracks down his father’s science partner (Rhys Ifans – who used to be a Notting Hill lout but has become a serious actor, as with his Earl of Oxford in Anonymous). Visiting the high tech lab of spiders for cross species experiments, he is bitten by a spider – and we know what happens. His turning into Spiderman is presented more realistically as he studies spider bites on line, develops a strong cable… But, his discovery of his superhuman strength is played for some welcome broad comedy.

Once Peter gets into action as Spiderman and designing and making his costume, the film flattens out a bit, not that there is not a lot of action. But, the film does show how his first motivations are selfish (as he is warned by Uncle Ben) and an enjoyment of his powers. Then he starts helping people – and the police chief (Denis Leary, sardonic as usual) brands him a vigilante. A bit awkward since the police chief is Gwen’s father.

In the meantime, the scientist, pressured by commercial interests, begins experiments on himself and he transforms into a giant lizard. Some this is a bit corny, even silly, the scientist turning into Dr Jekyll and Mr Godzilla. The latter part of the film is the monster vs Spiderman. Peter gets wounded a bit and has to deal with some diminishing powers and rely on Gwen and her father.

The film ends as expected but with an intra-credits setting up of a sequel.

Because it is not so surprising as the earlier films, it is not quite a standout entertainment, but it should satisfy its many audiences.



BRAVE

US, 2012,
Voices of: Kelly Mc Donald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly.
Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman.

Brave is the Pixar Studio’s annual animated movie. In the last ten years, they have won many Oscars for Best Animated Film (Finding Nemo, Ratatouile, Up, Wall- E, Toy Story 3) and have delighted audiences all around the world. This one starts very well, plateaus out, but offers an entertaining story of family troubles and warrior activity.

And, the central character is female, Merida, the daughter of the King and Queen of the united kingdom of Scottish clans. She is a redhead and has a certain fiery and tomboyish disposition which manifests itself in rebelling against her genteel mother’s attempts to teach her manners and regal graciousness, as well as riding vigorously around the countryside and showing Olympic-standard skills in archery.

The film opens in taking us way back into old Scot history and burly and rugged Fergus assuming command of the kingdoms (even as a malevolent bear chomps off one of his legs). As Merida grows up, the question of suitors for her hand arises. She wants none of it, chooses archery for the contest and decides to enter (and conquer) so that she can win her own hand.

But, her rebellious nature wreaks havoc when she follows blue willow-the-wisps to a witch’s cottage and causes the casting of a spell which turns her mother, Elinor, into a bear. Action follows with Fergus eager to pursue any bear. Mother and daughter have to survive in the woods and mother learns more about her daughter and daughter realises that she has been too selfish.

So, lots of action and quite a deal of comedy – the suitors and their fathers are a comically odd-looking and sounding lot. And, despite Elinor’s control, Fergus is a touch barbarian at heart.

And, the voices… Kelly Mac Donald is assertive as Merida. Emma Thompson is dignified but firm as Elinor and Billy Connolly has a vigorous old time as Fergus.

Enough for parents to enjoy as they watch Brave with their children – especially their daughters who might well latch on to Merida as a role model.


THE CABIN IN THE WOODS

US, 2011,
Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Sigourney Weaver.
Directed by Drew Goddard.

Once again, a group of college students go into the woods for an isolated holiday. This time, however, they are of slightly better calibre than the usual – though that may not be saying much. However, it is a very short-lived (literally) holiday. And they discover that, despite the remoteness, they are not alone.

One of the characters spends most of his time smoking pot and being quite stoned – though this becomes an important part of the plot. Speaking of plot, the writers (Drew Goddard who wrote Cloverfield and icon of Serenity and Avengers fans, Joss Whedon) must have been really indulging in pot or stronger to have concocted such an engagingly preposterous story, let alone the basis for their playing with horror conventions, visualizing monsters and offering an apocalyptic ending that defies belief.

Actually, many audiences may well be asking themselves as the film progresses whether what the clues are indicating could really be happening. On the one hand, the trials and tribulations of the students, their conjuring up evil spirits and becoming their victims, creates plenty of atmosphere and some shocks. On the other, we are initially introduced to two wisecracking members of a laboratory experimental program (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford). When we see what they are up to – which includes elaborate surveillance equipment and programming people’s lives and behaviour – we probably hesitate in thinking: are they really involved in some kind of satanic rituals. Spoiler: they are.

Having created such a bizarre scenario and having got rid of some of the students, it is time to bring the two strands together, the two remnant students who have gone through more than most of us could bear, and the callow and callous staff of the laboratory who seem to be living in a parallel world. Can the evil spirits, and the incarnated archetypes of primeval superstition and religion be appeased? Is there enough sacrificial blood for them? Will they just simply get rid of everything and everyone? By bringing in Sigourney Weaver as the Director of the lab, the film-makers offer a skerrick of credibility.

And, if that sounds interesting, then this is your film.


COMME UN CHEF/ THE CHEF

France, 2012,
Jean Reno, Michael Youn,
Directed by Daniel Cohen.

Why is it that so many words in English that we use for cooking and eating are actually French words: cuisine, restaurants, cafes, gourmet, soufflé…? Well, one reason is that no one has really thought there could be British cuisine (though fish and chips can make a claim). Comme un chef is a vivid – and amusing – reminder of the supremacy of the French in the art of food and dining.

This is a lighthearted, odd couple comedy. Jean Reno, who has appeared in many a comedy, but who is usually the straight man in the duo, as he is here as Alexandre, a master chef for fifteen years, whose career is on the rocks (he is suffering from menu-block) and is threatened by a money man who is interested in molecular cooking. (I must Google that and see if it actually exists.)

The other member of the odd couple is Michael Youn as Jacky, a young cook who lives and breathes cooking. He knows all the details of Alexandre’s menus, their ingredients as well as the dates and places of their introduction. By chance, he becomes Alexandre’s assistant, challenging him but also saving his reputation and restaurant.

Actually, this is a very genial film, a nice film, a feelgood and (vicariously, a taste-good) film, so the conflicts are for comic effect and not long-lasting. The two become good friends and Alexandre helps Jacky when his pregnant partner gets exasperated with Jacky who has been fired from too many jobs.

Food has delighted many audiences, seriously in such films as Babette’s Feast (Babette went from her restaurant in Paris to Jutland), comically in such films as Ratatouille (French setting, of course). For some the food is mouth watering (though, as with French dining, the portions could be larger!). For others, the cooking and recipes can be fascinating.

Whether you are a foodie or not, this is a pleasant light entertainment.

‘I did Google and thought I should share Wikipedia’s comments for those, like me, who did not know: Molecular gastronomy is a subdiscipline of food science that seeks to investigate, explain and make practical use of the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients that occur while cooking, as well as the social, artistic and technical components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena in general.4 Molecular gastronomy is a modern style of cooking, which is practiced by both scientists and food professionals in many professional kitchens and labs and takes advantage of many technical innovations from the scientific disciplines.

The term "molecular gastronomy" was coined in 1992 by late Oxford physicist Nicholas Kurti and the French INRA chemist Hervé This.5 Some chefs associated with the term choose to reject its use,6 preferring other terms such as "culinary physics" and "experimental cuisine".’ (Who said the movies are not educational!)


I AM ELEVEN

Australia, 2011,
Directed by Genevieve Bailey.

A documentary about and featuring children, and, as guessed by the title, they are eleven. This is the age that the writer-director says was her favourite age, still an age of childhood (where many say they would love to stay) but an age on the verge of serious transition into adolescence. She tells us she wanted to make a documentary and children seemed the best subject. However, she did not confine herself to Australian children. Rather, she went to countries all over the world, fifteen in all, where she wanted to visit. She filmed many, many interviews, but has edited her material down to just over 90 minutes. More can be found on the film’s website.

The best-known documentaries on children’s development have tended to focus on a sample group – and to follow up after a number of years, then more follow-up. The most famous of these is Michael Apted’s beginning with Seven-up in the early 1960s, meeting the subjects after seven years, then another seven. By 2012, the series had arrived at 56-up, the participants still willing (varying over the years) and providing a portrait of British children through adolescence, adulthood into middle age.

Gillian Armstrong made a similar series with some girls from Adelaide, beginning in the 1980s with Smokes and Lollies. There were four films in the series.

Since this is Genevieve Bailey’s first film, we don’t know whether she will travel around the world to find the children again. She has made a second visit because, at the end of the film, the boys and girls are interviewed, some at 12 and some older – and reflecting on how they felt at eleven.

The selection is of boys and girls. There are some leading questions and issues raised which means, of course, we have the comparison of what children in India say compared with some children in England. There are some from Thailand, France, Czech Republic, the US.

Sometimes they sound ingenuous, at other times, more thoughtful and experienced than one would have anticipated. There is usually a huge spontaneity about their reactions both wry (the boy in London) or serious (the ecology preoccupied by in France). On the other hand, one girl has an ambition to make chocolates, and Indian girl speaks in self-giving mode wanting to be a doctor.

The editing makes for entertaining watching, the blend of close-up responses and interviews along with some detail of background life in a particular country, village life in India, with elephants in Thailand.

Obviously not a definitive work on eleven year olds but one that immerses the audience in their world, a reminded of the joys as well as the earnestness of being eleven – with life about to unfold before them.


ICE AGE 4: CONTINENTAL DRIFT

US, 2012,
Voices of: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Peter Dinklage, Jennifer Lopez.
Directed by Steve Martino, Mike Thurmeier.

It’s a decade since we were first introduced to the everlasting nut-seeking Scrat (or even before because we got to like him – feel sorry for him – in several promos and trailers). Ice Age was released in 2002. The second film (and a game) in 2006. The third in 2009. Then a television short in 2011. And, here we are again. Ice Age has become part of family movie culture and of cinema animation.

And, Scrat is at it again. But, glad to say, he has more screen time than before. He gets to reappear throughout the film. And, at the end. His nut-avarice seems to be the cause of Atlantis sinking beneath the Atlantic Ocean, a piece of the mythology that we never realized before!

However, we are also soon introduced to a motley collection of prehistoric animals who have become friends – to littlies and oldies alike. They get to do some typical action so we are back in familiar territory with familiar characters. And the voices that we are know are back again (with shots of the voice talent to be seen in the final credits). Ray Romano is the ever-sturdy mammoth leader, Manny. Diego the sabre-toothed tiger is Denis Leary. John Leguizamo and Sid the Sloth are as ditsy as ever. And, there are some new voices. Peter Dinklage is most welcome as the ape pirate chief, Captain Gutt, Jennifer Lopez as a female sabre-toothed tiger in his crew, Wanda Sykes as Sid’s potty grandmother. Even Patrick Stewart turns up at the end as Ariscratle, showing Scrat around Atlantis. There are lots of American and British talent as the animals and the pirates.

The story is a variation on what we have seen before. But, that doesn’t matter much because the formula was a good one. There are the usual dangers of the Ice Age, glaciers splitting, mountains crumbling – though we are shown just how Australia and Africa were the result of all these rumblings. And, then a trek.

When Manny, Diego, Sid and Granny are separated from the rest of the herd, adrift on an iceberg, Manny is determined to find his wife and daughter (with whom he has been having teenage problems about going out and getting home late) and lead his little band home. The menace this time is the pirate gang, a scraggly lot except for a very fat seal, but enough to cause lots of mayhem and set up battles and escapes. Formula, but very agreeable.

And the formula seems to work for young audiences as well as older audiences. To think that the young audience which enjoyed Ice Age is now entering the teens! I hope they enjoy this one and don’t look down on the little brothers and sisters who will be laughing and excited.


THE INNKEEPERS

US, 2011,
Sara Paxton, Pat Healey, Kelly Mc Gillis.
Directed by Ti West.

An old hotel in the 19th century style. About to close. A few strange guests. Two staff members who are investigating the alleged haunting of the hotel.

This is a ghost story which operates on the slow burn principle and techniques, building up atmosphere, popping in a few scares for us to jump, and an ending and explanation (or lack of) that is a bit of a flame flickering and being extinguished.

Sara Paxton and Pat Healey are Claire and Luke, caretaking the hotel and experimenting with discovering who the ghost is – and taping mysterious sounds and piano notes. How serious they are is hard to tell, especially when Claire has a session with an ageing actress (a welcome Kelly McGillis) who has discovered she has healing and psychic powers. Claire may not be taking her too seriously.

She should have. An old man comes to the hotel for the final night, wanting a room that he stayed in for his honeymoon, long ago. He looks more than old, really ancient. And something dreadful happens in his room. Sara becomes more alarmed, a touch hysterical and goes down (why??) into the dark basement. She sees things. She sees people. But, is this real, are there ghosts, or is it all happening in Sara’s imagination?

Quite a lot of things going for The Innkeepers, but it relies more on its atmosphere than jolts and shocks.


MARLEY

UK, 2011,
Directed by Kevin Macdonald

One of the points of interest for potential audiences for Marley is that it was directed by Kevin Macdonald. While Macdonald directed the Oscar-winning The Last King of Scotland, he is better known for his powerful documentaries. He won an Oscar for his film of the massacre at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972, One Day in September. Well worth seeing are such films as Touching the Void about climbers in the Andes and his portrait of French Nazi, Klaus Barbie, and how he survived in South America after his condemnation after World War II, My Enemy’s Enemy.

Macdonald has taken Bob Marley as his subject. His film runs almost two and a half hours and incorporates many, very many, of Marley’s songs and performances – a friend said he counted 72 in the final credits.

The initial appeal will be to fans of Marley and of his encouraging the popularity of Reggae well beyond the shores of his native Jamaica, a popularity that has lasted well after his death in 1981 at the age of 36.

No problem in commending the film for its musical content.

However, there is far more to respond to in Marley. Other themes are worth following through.

Bob Marley was born in Jamaica in 1945. His mother was West Indian. His father was British, a bureaucrat and an adventurer who played little influence in his son’s life. But, it meant that Marley was sometimes seen and commented on in the light of his lighter heritage. Marley grew up in comparative poverty with his mother in a country village but moved into Kingston in his teen years where he began to learn music and to perform. But, this was a period of unrest in Jamaica and the movement towards independence. Marley’s popularity meant an involvement in the political unrest and violence in the streets and thug shootings that marred life in Jamaica during the 1970s. He was invited to perform in 1978 in Kingston but became a victim of a shooting and the questioning of whether he should be performing. Perform he did and was able to bring the then two leaders of the country on stage and join their hands.

But, it was Marley’s appearance that drew attention to him and his Reggae rhythms. Growing deadlocks, he embraced and promoted Rastafarianism, a religious view of the world that centred on Jesus coming to earth after 2000 years, and coming in the form of the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie (who did visit Jamaica to a rapturous welcome). There is quite an amount of explanation of Rasta behaviour (including the smoking of a great deal of marijuana) and beliefs.
The film is also a significant contribution to music history, tracing the West Indian African traditions (opening with a reminder of the slave castles in Ghana from which the slaves went to the Americas), the calypso rhythms, the counterpoint rhythms of Reggae, the early recordings by Marley and his band, the interest overseas, concerts in the UK and, eventually, in Europe and the United States. For Marley, the lyrics were also important, poetic but also reflective, with an emphasis on religious values and peace.

The film serves, of course, as a detailed biography, portrait and study of Marley. Interview clips are abundant – and welcome. Testimonies and explanations come from his teachers, his children, his wife (though Marley’s Rasta beliefs and personality did not confine him to one wife, his having eleven children from seven different partners), his colleagues in his band (they predominate and are very helpful in appreciating Marley and his achievements), his producers. Marley himself appears constantly throughout the film but since he is long dead and the interviewees are looking back at the past, his personality comes through clips chosen by the film-makers rather than directly.

Marley was tenacious and was unstinting in his playing to his audiences. This becomes a sad experience for him and friends as his cancer is diagnosed, attempts to deal with the cancer in Germany alleviate only for a while, and he dies at the age of 36.

Kevin Macdonald has added another telling documentary to his CV and most audiences will find a great deal to interest and entertain whether they are approaching via biography, politics or, as most will, via the music.


POLISSE

France, 2011,
Karen Viard, Joey Starr, Marina Fois, Maiwenn, Frederic Pierrot.
Directed by Maiwenn.

The police, polisse, of the title of this very interesting French drama, are the Child Protection Unit of Paris. The film is definitely interesting but it is also definitely grim. And, not just with the crimes and cases that this squad has to deal with, but with the toll that this work takes on the individuals (and the group).

It has the air of authenticity about it, with the streets of Paris, the police precincts, homes, schools and malls, because director and co-writer, Maiwenn, spent a lot of time with the actual personnel for experience and research. Maiwenn herself plays a professional photographer who is hired to photograph the individuals at work but also aspects of the vcitms and the perpetrators, a reminded that she has done her preparation work and knows what she is presenting on screen.

While the film begins and ends in sounds of children’s joy, it shows us a range of cases, some glimpsed, some explored in more detail, where children are abused and hurt, often within a home context. To make this point, the opening story is disturbing as the interviewers try to coax a description out of a very little girl about her father’s inappropriate behaviour. It tests how we respond to such cases, how we feel for the little girl, wondering how such questions can be best put and answered.

The members of the squad have to do a great deal of interviewing, and in rooms that are not always conducive to privacy or to the comfort of the person being questioned. In the opening sequence, the little girl is being spoken to by one person while another sits, visibly, at a desk behind the first one, indicating directions for the interview. These sequences make us wonder what training the squad members have undergone, how personalized and how (as we see more of their own lives and struggles) this has an effect on their work.

There are runaways, infants, a girl who led another into a basement to be gang raped, a shy boy visctim to his sports coach, a well-to-do home where the mother (subsequently interviewed and embarrassed by particularly invasive – but perhaps necessary – questions about her intimate life with her husband and how that might throw light on what her husband has done to his daughter. (This man boasts of his friends in high places and of how he won’t go to jail.) And several other cases.
We also get to know several of the members of the unit very well as individuals, while others remain part of the group, identifiable by their faces, but not central as a some of the others. There are close friendships and confidants which emotions can turn into enmities. There is a man angry at home who takes it out on the accused but who begins an affair with the photographer. There is a sequence where the unit spends the night searching for a drug addicted mother who has abducted her child. Another of a stake-out in a mall – which goes wrong and leads to a hostage and gunfire situation.

It’s really a docudrama, plenty of the equivalent of documentary material on how the Unit operates, plenty of drama, especially of the lives of the unit members – including a dramatic and disturbing shock just before the end.

Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes, 2011.


ROCK OF AGES

US, 2012
Julianne Hough, Diego Boneto, Tom Cruise, Adam Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta- Jones,
Directed by Adam Shankman.

Do you remember the 80s? Perhaps the wrong question for potential audiences of Rock of Ages. They may have not been born then or were very young. This reviewer remembers the 80s but not the 80s on display here. We live in our own worlds and, of course, we have our own music tastes – though I do remember a couple of songs heard (and seen) here.

The scene is Los Angeles. The particular scene is a club on Sunset Boulevard. Inside, it has lots of rooms for yelling and rocking devotees – and some backstage rooms which lend themselves to the kind of activity that anti-rock campaigners complain about. Across the street is an area for gathering and, here, for protests, led by some devout women who want to clean up the strip. Speaking of strip, there is also a ‘gentlemen’s club’ venue for some of the action, plenty of poles and plenty of ‘dancers’.

But, I do remember that in 1984, Footloose was released, a story of a strong-minded pastor (John Lithgow) who wanted to ban rock and roll from his town – but Kevin Bacon arrived to convert people to the music and the dance. Rock of Ages has its eye on Footloose and its issues (and has a reference in the credits – and the star of Rock of Ages, Julianne Hough, starred in the 2011 Footloose remake). Of course, the protesters tend to be Christian narrow minded citizens (and some of them live double standards, the more the protest, the more the hypocrisy).

Rock of Ages tends to be loud, sweaty and gyrating – which makes the experience, for audiences who have not been transported back to the 80s, something of an endurance. Otherwise, you might want to get up and dance in the aisles because the songs come fairly frequently and are imaginatively sung by many of the cast with intercutting editing. And all the cast, a number of whom you have not heard sing before, belt out the numbers. This is particularly true of Tom Cruise, all tattooed, long-haired, shirt off (and sweaty), as the ageing rock star, Jacey Staxx. But, at 49, Cruise (who showed his athleticism in his previous Mission Impossible movie) is certainly vigorous and rocks the songs out himself. Even Alec Baldwin as the manager of the club and Russell Brand as his assistant, and more than friend, get into the action. And even Paul Giamatti as a cynical promoter. Catherine Zeta Jones has sung to Oscar effect in Chicago. Here she is the leader of the protestors (with, of course, a guilty secret).

However, this is one of those old (very old) tales of the ingénue who leaves Oklahoma to be a singer in LA and falls in love with the barman in the club who also wants to sing. Actually, both Julianne Hough and Diego Beneto, do quite a lot of singing, but their love, misunderstandings, reconciliation, run along the expected lines. Despite poking fun at Boy Bands who did become popular in the 90s, music taste has meant that what has lasted is the Rock and Roll of Ages.


SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN

UK, 2012,
Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth,
Directed by Rupert Sanders.

This tale does begin with ‘Once upon a time…’ then takes us back into a medieval village and castle and the story of Snow White, her evil stepmother, Prince William and a huntsman.

No expense has been spared in this production. Settings are quite spectacular, from the formidable castle and its vast interiors, the wave-crashing sea and the beach expanses, a deadly forest and the beauty of a fairyland. The director, Rupert Sanders, has had a career in commercials so knows how to make the most of a sequence of only a few seconds as well as keep the narrative moving – which serves the momentum of this tale very well. Some scenes, like a lavish crowd coronation scene, last for a very short time and we are on to the next.

This film takes the fairy tale very seriously – not a light satire like Mirror, Mirror, with Julia Roberts. Charlize Theron obviously relishes her role as the hugely egocentric queen who quickly gets rid of her husband, wages war on the people and imprisons the child, Snow White. She has a most elaborate wardrobe as she walks the castle, using her younger brother as her sinister executor of her will and her drive to power and to eternal youth (often sucking the life out of young woman, at other times bathing in milk).

When Snow White escapes from the castle, she sends her brother in pursuit and employs a grieving widower, a woodsman, to hunt down the princess. This leads them into a deadly forest, an encounter with a giant troll, finding a village of women where the men have all gone to fight – and to an encounter with eight dwarves.

Kristen Stewart is Snow White, not unlike her Bella in the Twilight films. Chris Hemsworth is a sturdy huntsman, something like a down-to-earth Thor. And a lot of veteran British actors have been altered by computergraphics to be the dwarves – Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane? amongst others.
There are lots of battle sequences, especially a climactic confrontation and an attack on the castle where Snow White turns into something like a Joan of Arc. And, of course, the confrontation with the queen.

Costumes are lavish. The musical score aspires to the epic. And, all in all, it works pretty well as an action entertainment.


TAKE THIS WALTZ

Canada, 2011,
Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby,
Directed by Sarah Polley.

Take this Waltz is really a psychological and emotional portrait of a 28 year old woman who has been married for five years, Margot. She is played intensely, with both sadness and joy, by Michelle Williams who has been emerging as a strong actress in a variety of films from Meek’s Cutoff to her turn as Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn.

Margot is married to Lou, an expert cook who is trying out recipes for chicken. Seth Rogen plays Lou as a genial man who loves Margot and is happy to say ‘I love you’. However, the audience senses, as she does, that there is something incomplete in her relationship with her husband. When she meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) at a theme park and then on a plane, she is immediately attracted to him but does not quite know what this attraction is or what it means. While she is attracted to Daniel, she is distracted from Lou.

She seeks out opportunities to talk with Daniel, watch him, since he lives across the street. Daniel is cautious and does not want to do anything improper. However, at a café one afternoon, they have a conversation where a great deal of erotic behaviour is described and relished. Is this where the breakdown of her marriage is consummated or has it been a longer, slower process. On the occasion of their fifth wedding anniversary, Margot and Lou are given a rickshaw ride by Daniel. Their conversation at the meal means that Lou does not grasp what is happening to Margot and to their marriage. When he does realise what is happening, he lets her go – with great regret.

Daniel has moved away, but Margot follows him. The climax of their relationship is offered in a stylized way, to the lyrics and melody of Take This Waltz and a succession of erotic tableaux.

After the excitement comes the ordinariness. Margot gets the opportunity to see Lou again when he calls her to come when his alcoholic sister, Geraldine (Sarah Silverman) has a relapse. Geraldine, however, gets the opportunity to voice her reactions and those of the family to Margot’s behaviour.

We are left with Margot quietly cooking in her kitchen. Sarah Polley has a career as an actress but she also wrote Away from Her, a fine story of an ageing woman with Alzheimer’s Disease. Once again, she has a portrait of a woman, a much younger woman who forgets her life with her husband, away from him.


TED

US, 2012,
Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth Mac Farlane, Narrator: Patrick Stewart,
Directed by Seth Mac Farlane.

Yes, this is the comedy where a teddy bear, a little boy’s toy, comes alive after his owner wishes he could. It would be interesting to read the pitch that the producers offered to the money backers – would they have believed that you could make a money-making movie with this premiss? And would they have believed that Ted would grow up along with John, the little boy? And that Ted would be accepted by everyone, become something of a media celebrity and appear on the Johnny Carson show?

Somebody believed it could be a success because here it is – and will be a box-office success. Writer-director (and voice of Ted), Seth Mac Farlane has had the courage of his convictions and gone full steam ahead.

It begins to make us laugh right from the start, with Patrick Stewart doing a sonorous voiceover, intoning the story and then landing us with some deadpan jokes – which he does throughout the film.

But, when Ted grows up, he must imagine he is Seth Rogen or some of those characters in stoner comedies like Pineapple Express. He takes easily to drugs. He has a four letter mouth. And he has a fairly sleazy attitude towards sex. This is played for laughs, making many audiences (including this reviewer) laugh despite themselves. It’s in the vein of Sacha Baron Cohen jokes – you don’t at first believe you have heard what you heard, and then you realise some satirical points are being made.

The writing, allowing for the crass, is often clever and carries the comedy. We are amused by Ted even though we might not necessarily like living with him. The film also works because of Mark Wahlberg’s performance. He is the grown-up (well not quite grown-up) John. His acting with the bear is completely convincing. He plays it straight and it works. So does Mila Kunis as John’s girlfriend who wants John to become more adult and make a decision about love and friendship.

There are quite a number of funny references to movies and actors, from ET to James Franco (who has appeared several times as a stoner). The main references and clips are from the 1980 Buck Rogers – and Sam Jones, the star, turns up at a party and in an offbeat cameo at the end.

Ted starts as cuddly, develops into a slacker, then, of course, tries to do some right things for John. Funny how such a premiss as a live bear alive and well in New York City actually works.


THAT’S MY BOY

US, 2012,
Adam Sandler, Andy Sandberg, Leighton Meester.
Directed by Steve Anders.

That’s My Boy is not going to make any converts to Adam Sandler comedies. In fact, it might well alienate some audiences and satisfy only his die-hard fans. This is a pity since Sandler, even as his frequent child-man persona, can be very funny.

This one is overall ugly. And, over all, not particularly funny unless you want to go again into the grossly raucous jokes that have been a staple of many films, each trying to outdo the other in what they can get away with. This one is incessantly crass, frequently gross. Sacha Baron Cohen can get away with a lot because he has many satiric points to make. Ted and The Hangover can get away with a lot because there is some wit in there among the gross and the dross. That’s My Boy is more in the tradition of The Hangover II (the less than funny one).

It begins with a theme that is risky these days for broad comedy: a teacher seducing a (very much more than willing) teenage student at school. While she does go to prison, he is hailed at an assembly of students and staff as a local hero. At a time when society is trying to deal with sexual molestation and abuse, this opening is dubious in tone to say the least. Along the way, there are a lot of sexual shenanigans amongst most of the characters and some leering from most of the rest, including a promiscuous grandmother and a brother and sister.

The teacher is played by Eva Amurri and, in the present, by her mother Susan Sarandon – though that doesn’t really offer any more respectability to the film. James Caan as a pugnacious Irish priest definitely doesn’t contribute any respectability.

The schoolboy grows up into Adam Sandler whose moral fibre is pretty tenuous, though he is meant to have a soft heart underneath all the four (and beyond) letter bravado and drunken, slavering posturing (and more) that seems to be the be-all and end-all of his life. Since the school teacher was pregnant when she went to jail, the boy, Donnie, has to bring up his son. The son (Andy Samberg) has, reasonably, run off from his father and is now a successful financier about to get married. The action takes place over a few days, enough for father to come to exploit his son for money so that he won’t go to jail for not paying back taxes, enough for son to loathe his father, enough for all the wedding guests to think that Donnie is just the man. And, of course, son will be helped to drink, vomit and behave sexually as his father does, and, of course again, to get to like his father and be proud of him.

There are radio and TV shows which, seriously or comically, ask panelists to choose films which they would show to alien visitors to explain human life. If the aliens were able to sit through That’s My Boy, they would discover some lowest common denominators.


THE THREE STOOGES

US, 2012,
Sean Hayes, Will Sasso, Chris Diamantopoulis, Jane Lynch, Larry David.
Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelley.

Sophisticated, it ain’t.

Knockabout comedy is a good phrase to describe any Three Stooges comedy – knocks, hits, bangs, tweaks, jabs, pokes, bops, plugs, dongs, biffs and boffs, socks, clunks, and general in-your-face (well, their faces and of any unlucky bystanders) physical mayhem. And it is slapstick – emphasis on the slap. In fact, this film could serve as a visual compendium of slapstick.

The film is not a biography of the men who became the screen’s Three Stooges in the 1930s and continued to be popular with their short films until the 1950s – and then a new lease of life on television. That was done in the 2000 film, also called The Three Stooges (and filmed in Sydney). Rather, this is a fictional story with the three stooges as the main characters. It is divided into 3 short films, interlinked for the story and presented as films starring the Three Stooges.

This means that Sean Hayes (from Will and Grace) is Larry and impersonates the character and style of the original Larry. Chris Diamantopolous does the same for Moe and Will Sasso for Curley (the one with no hair). They look the part of the originals and go through the well-known routines (as well as the punning that Curley is prone to). What we get is a Three Stooges’ experience. Three boys do the impersonations at age 10, and they are very good at it too.

The plot is an old one. Orphanage is on the brink of bankruptcy (owing to the mishaps of the boys – who missed out on being adopted when they were ten). Shades of the Blues Brothers. Almost a million dollars is needed and the boys promise they will find it. The orphanage is run by Sisters of Mercy (fictional rather than real) with Jane Lynch taking time off from Glee (and much more benign here) as Mother Superior. Jennifer Hudson is one of the nuns and gets an opportunity to sing. The main nun, a caricature (well, mostly) of the severe and cranky sisters of the past, Sister Mary Mengele, is played by Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David who seems to relish his roaring at the kids, while being the butt of bangs, clunks, dongs etc.

There is a sub-plot with the boys hired to kill an allegedly unkind husband. Well, everything goes wrong, of course, with the wrong victim run over by a bus (but, surviving, after all it is a PG movie). The plot lines link up with an adoption story from the boys’ past and it all ends happily with some sentimental moments about the orphanage, a sick little girl and a bereft little boy.
Obviously, it is for Three Stooges fans, of which the Farelley Brothers who wrote and directed the film (and made films like Dumb and Dumber) must take the head of the queue as number one fans, making their 2012 film just like those of the past. They also come on screen at the end to warn kids not to imitate the pranks (after all, the hammers etc on screen were rubber and relied on sound effects for their impact).

One satisfied viewer said that watching it sent him back to being a ten year old. So, there you are.


WHERE DO WE GO NOW?

2011, Lebanon,
Directed by Nadine Labaka

This is the question raised at the end of the film as the people of a Lebanese village, part Muslim, part Catholic, attend the funeral of one of the young people who has been killed in sectarian crossfire. They have clashed themselves but, in an attempt for peace, they join for the funeral, going into the local cemetery with the clear demarcation path between Muslim and Catholic plots. The men carrying the coffin look at the dividing line, swivel around and ask, Where do we go now?

The question pervades the film. Long traditions of clash have been partly put aside as the priest and the Imam get on well and everyone joins in celebrations and shop locally (though this is a great place for arguments as is the newly set up TV, the only one in the village where people come to sit in the open air and watch – and then squabble, and then fight. Lebanese recent history has shown a grim civil war but also attempts at peace. Is peace possible? Is it even possible to ask, ‘Give peace a chance’.

So, a film that combines the serious with a lot of humour (and some moments or romantic fantasy). The film was written and directed by Nadine Labaka who also has a leading role as the proprietor of a local café. The sensibility of the film is distinctly female. While the women can argue with the best of them, they are wives and mothers, caregivers rather than warriors. How will they try to promote peace amongst the pugnacious men?

Actually, some of the solutions are a fake miracle, a statue of Mary weeping blood while the mayor’s mother pretends to have visions and messages from Mary, wanting peace. She overdoes it by making some of Mary’s criticisms rather personal! They bring in some belly dancers from a nightclub. They also have some creative culinary experiments that make peace more of a pleasantly high experience. And, there is a rather drastic interfaith solution.

Audiences will find the film quite diverting at times while they will also feel the highly emotional antagonisms as well as a longing for peace.

This review is being written at the time that government and rebels in Syria are at something of a stalemate in any give or take in resolving the uprising. Looking at this film will see something of why Lebanon’s neighbours have taken a long time to move towards peace.

Created by: malone last modification: Monday 02 of July, 2012 [14:08:21 UTC] by malone


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