A Different Ben Stiller, a Rockin’ Neil Young and How to Train a Dragon Are New in Theatres, But Don’t Forget Mother
It’s an unusual week. Four films each rate four stars. If that’s not enough, look below them for an erotic mystery set in Toronto and a time travel lark filmed in B.C.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: It’s an animated film but it plays like a giant spectacular. There are mammoth battle scenes, flocks of dragons attacking and huge, swooping flying sequences with a young boy hero, all presented in sparkling 3-D. And at the same time there’s a simple story about that boy seeking his father’s approval. Kids and adults will both like this one. The story, from a popular book, has a young Viking (voiced by Montreal’s Jay Baruchel) disappoint his father (Gerard Butler) by showing no ambitions or apparent abilities to kill dragons. In fact, he secretly befriends one and learns that the creatures are not hostile. That’s a challenge to the most basic beliefs within the colony and to the father who proclaims: “You are not my son.” Winning back his dad, gaining the respect of the village and turning around the snide comments of a cute girl (America Ferrera) drives the lively plot. The story is good, the animation is fabulous and you’ll find a refreshing absence of pop culture allusions. Dreamworks overdid those in films like Shrek. Oddly, the adults here have Scots accents while the teens are American. One even describes something as “cool”. It’s a minor flaw. There are scary scenes in this film, mostly startles, as when dragons suddenly pop into the picture, or a few close face-to-face encounters that little kids might find intimidating. (In 3-D at the 5th Avenue, Tinseltown and other theatres, and 2-D at the Dunbar and others). 4 out of 5
MOTHER: Note well the name Bong Joon-Ho. He’s from Korea and makes terrific movies. The Host was a huge hit in his home country and on many a 10-best-list over here. Now he’s brought us a bold and daring thriller about a mother’s love for her son. There’s more than a little Hitchcock in this engrossing entertainment.
Hye-ja Kim, well-known for playing mothers on TV, puts a darker twist on her character. When her son, who is mentally challenged and clumsy, gets himself charged with murdering a school girl, she sets out to find the real killer. That leads her through the interface between the country club set and slum dwellers, lazy cops and uninterested lawyers, teenage hoods and hookers, and more. Her search turns increasingly obsessive and we’re firmly drawn in. More than once, there’s a completely unexpected plot turn on the way to a surreal conclusion. The director spins a strong mood and loves to bring in broad changes in tone and bursts of ironic humor. With a light touch but tight control, he manages to make it all work. (Tinseltown) 4 out of 5
GREENBERG: How you react to this movie will be directly related to how you feel about the central character. And maybe about Ben Stiller. Greenberg is a complainer, about anything and everything. His friends say he lies and can’t joke about himself. Years ago he was in a band, but he scuttled a potential record deal in a fit of anti-corporate pique. Except for a bit of carpentry, he does nothing.
He’s a fine and detailed example of damaged narcissism, perfectly written and directed by Noah Baumbach and acted by Stiller. Here he’s not the dry goofball so familiar in his own movies or that Navi impersonation on Oscar night, but a subtle actor playing a guy who’s lost, even unstable and can’t avoid being abusive to his former bandmate friends whose career hopes he killed. The film watches as he visits his old haunts in Los Angeles and tries to pull himself out of his rut. Not too hard though. And often with contradictory intentions. This is a slicker and higher-budgeted version of that movie genre called mumblecore which tracks the mostly aimless lives of slackers or love-seeking young urbanites.. It even has two names in the cast from those movies. Greta Gerwig is natural and endearing as an equally fumbling soul who Greenberg falls for, in his distracted way. Mark Duplass, a multi-talented creative force in the genre, plays an old buddy. The film is funny and grating at the same time. The scenes with another old buddy (Rhys Ifans) are particularly touching as old memories of friendship bump into current recriminations. A very good film. (Tinseltown) 4 out of 5
NEIL YOUNG TRUNK SHOW: Music fans, pay attention to this one. This is the second concert film directed by Jonathan Demme to showcase the legendary rocker. Heart of Gold, four years ago, was a calm affair. This one rocks.
Young, with a hot band, does 13 songs alternating acoustic with electric and highlighting some rare ones. The choices are interesting. There are the expected inclusions from a current album and a few classics like Cinnamon Girl and Cowgirls in the Sand. There’s also the lesser known Ambulance Blues which recalls his days in Toronto’s Yorkville coffee house district, reflects on people in the news at the time like Richard Nixon and Patty Hearst and blasts both politicians and protesters with the invective: “You’re all just pissing in the wind.” But the highlight is a blistering No Hidden Path which stretches to 20 minutes with a trip out guitar improvisation. The sound is uneven, the camera work is less than smooth but the casual, sometimes raw side of a great artist is captured up close. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5
CHLOE: Atom Egoyan wants us to see his new film as an “erotic mystery.” It is that alright but there’s quite a bit of a potboiler in here too. A wife (Julianne Moore) gets far more than she bargained for when she suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) of cheating and hires a classy escort (Amanda Seyfried) to tempt him and report back. Just as she imagined, the stories are hot and juicy. Are they true? Before giving more thought to that, she ends up in bed with the escort, who proves to be needy, lost and ultimately vengeful.
Seyfried, who was so sunny in Mama Mia, reveals a flair for playing psychologically twisted behind those big soulful eyes. Suspense and intrigue build nicely through most of the film. Then a heavy-handed ending disrupts the mood. This was the film Neeson was making when his wife, Natasha Richardson died after a skiing accident. I don’t see any effect on his acting, although his role here is very much secondary to the two women. What I do see is a lot of Toronto. Neeson reads The Globe and Mail; Moore is on the cover of Toronto Life. Local landmarks and even snow are seen frequently. (Tinseltown, The Ridge and Riverport) 3 out of 5
HOT TUB TIME MACHINE: I can imagine the meeting. The Hangover was a big hit. Let’s make one too. We can also have four guys on a wild weekend, one of them a loose cannon. We’ll send them to a ski resort. We can shoot in Fernie, B.C. Rolling Stone says it’s cool. And we’ll make it different by sending the boys back to 1986 when a hot tub goes on the fritz. Nobody cares how.
They’ll love re-living the 80s and we can put in a bit of meaningful dialogue about destiny and whether choices mean anything. Just a bit, though. Booze, drugs, girls and rock and roll are what we want. This not only sounds like a low-class comedy. It is. Vomiting on a squirrel is an early and extreme tip off. There are plenty more, including a creepy recurring joke about a one-armed bellhop. It’s enough to make you wonder what John Cusack is doing in here. He and his buddies have to relive a series of alcohol and sexual encounters from of their past exactly as they originally happened so they can get back to modern times. There are plenty of temptations to stray, though and much talk about how their life could have turned out differently. The best jokes are about long-gone artifacts (cassettes, huge cel phones, Ronald Reagan) and things not yet invented (e-mail, texting, Red Bull). Chevy Chase appears now and then as an ethereal tub repairman. The film has great energy and, for some parts of the audience, lots of laughs. A few scenes were filmed in Vancouver. (At theatres all over) 2 out of 5