Sanctum, A Drummer’s Dream, What Women Want (Chinese version) and Guido, Superstar. But not The Roommate.
The big film this week, The Roommate, was hidden from the media. James Cameron, a Chinese movie company and a local actor-turned-filmmaker were eager to get publicity, and three smaller films deserve more of it.
Here’s this week’s line up:
Sanctum 2 ½ stars
A Drummer’s Dream 4
What Women Want 2
Guido Superstar 1½
The Roommate --
SANCTUM: James Cameron has us underwater again and in 3-D this time. He didn’t direct this claustrophobic and noisy thriller about exploring caves but as Executive Producer he must have overseen it. The camera system is the one he developed for Avatar and the story is true. It happened to a friend of his. So, this must be one cracker jack of an adventure movie, right? Nope. It wears you down with lots of yelling and exertion, occasional scenes we don’t understand and only a few moments of genuine tension. Oh, and there’s a father-son conflict that comes centre screen too often.
“The world’s most determined cave diver” (Richard Roxburgh) is exploring a huge system in Papua, New Guinea. He pushes his crew relentlessly and badgers them about every detail of their equipment and technique. He’s hardest on his son (Rhys Wakefield) who doesn’t buy the defense that “he’s really a good fella, once you get to know him.” Most of the speeches are in deep Australian, except for those of a couple of Americans (played by Ioan Gruffudd and Alice Parkinson) who seem to be financing the expedition. The real story here is that as they all explore, a storm is moving in. The caves will be flooded. Can they get out? There are spectacular cave vistas, tight “restrictions” to crawl through and a churning pool described as a “meat grinder” to cross over. It’s only sporadically gripping though, and the lackluster script prevents us from caring much for the characters. (Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
A DRUMMER'S DREAM: “Caravan with a drummer solo,” is the call in a Frank Zappa song. John Bonham and Ginger Baker used to deliver them at length. Now you can get several of them, in different styles and from some top players in this Canadian documentary. Both the primal rhythm and the pure joy of drumming come off the screen right at you.
One by one the drummers perform for a small crowd of students at a lakeside farm in rural Ontario. They play a solo, explain what they’re doing and tell their own history. Giovanni Hidalgo learned to play fast by turning his 33 rpm records up to the 45 speed. Horacio “El Negro” Hernández, originally from Cuba, recalls using discarded x-ray film for his drum heads. Dennis Chambers is on 300 records but can’t read music. Mike Mangini creates a visual blur when his solo peaks. There are seven players in all, including Santana’s drummer, Raul Rekow and when they come together near the end for a jam session it’s untidy and ecstatic.
(VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5
BIRDWATCHERS: This film has almost nothing to do with birders. We see some only briefly at the start. After that we get a well-observed and fiery tale of aboriginals pressing their rights in Brazil.
There was an incident here in B.C. that played out in almost exactly the same way at Gustafsen Lake up in the Chilcotin 15 years ago, when a group of natives occupied some ranchland they claimed was sacred. In this film, a group of Guarani people led by a sometimes drunkard named Nádio leave the reserve and reclaim their ancestral land. They set up camp on a public roadside next to a prosperous farm, and later, as their numbers grow, move right on to the fields. They expect to hunt and gather. Instead there’s a slowly escalating confrontation brewing with the farmer who tries to be liberal but argues his right to the land because his family has owned it for three generations. The issues are difficult and the filmmakers don’t minimize either side’s argument, although some early racist scenes and an appeal in the end credits indicate which side they support. The cinematography is beautiful and the actors, non-professionals from the area, are completely natural.
(VanCity Theatre) 3 1/2 out of 5
WHAT WOMEN WANT: Two Asian Mega stars, Gong Li and Andy Lau, can't keep this romantic comedy fizzing and buzzing. First of all they don't have a great deal of chemistry together. Second, and most important, this Chinese re-make takes out much of what made the original work. That was the Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt film of 11 years ago which today is found mostly in thrift stores. A quick re-visit shows it was a smartly-written workplace comedy even with its unrealistic dose of woman's fantasy, i.e. that a male chauvinist comes to better understand women and corrects his piggy ways.
Like Mel, Andy gets an electrical shock that gives him the power to hear what women are thinking. He's most interested in listening in on Gong Li, the woman who got the job he coveted at the advertising agency they work for. He starts stealing her ideas, hoping to sabotage her career and take over. It was these office dynamics that made the original work. Here they're undercut, either by actual elimination, or by so much compression they're left with no impact. No Alan Alda or Helen Hunt explaining how the world has changed. And no Bette Midler, a real loss. No sex scenes either, although some body function jokes now appear. Also new is a father living (and singing) in an old age home. He's supposed to deepen a family angle but mostly interrupts the main story. Andy's conversion to nice guy doesn't happen with much credibility and Gong Li doesn't deliver much of the strength of Chinese women that the filmakers promised. The film opened in both China and a few North American cities on the same day, Chinese New Year. (International Village, Station Square and three suburban theatres) 2 out of 5
KURONEKO: Here’s a far better bet if you’re after Asian retro. It’s a Japanese film from 1968 that may not have played here in Vancouver before now. Ghosts, samurai and an anti-war statement come together in a stylish, moody revenge saga. Two women, who are raped and killed by a band of marauding warriors, vow to “drink the blood of every last samurai in the world.” (They’re revived as ghosts by their black cat, you see, one of several nutty elements in the story.)
One by one, four riders come, are seduced and killed. But what happens when the next samurai turns out to be the older woman’s son and the younger one’s husband? An overplayed scene-chewing of a climax that’s what. Before that the film is quietly calm, not particularly scary, but eerie with unease. Kaneto Shindo, the director, is best known for Onibaba, which he made four years earlier and which also has a woman and her mother-in-law killing soldiers. That was a harrowing study of barbarism. This later one adds in political themes about war, the nobility and peasants but, at heart, remains a ghost story; an engaging one told in crisp, wide-screen black and white. (Pacific Cinematheque) 3 out of 5
GUIDO SUPERSTAR – THE RISE OF GUIDO: You have to commend Silvio Pollio for his perseverance, but not so much for what it brought forth. The local actor found the money for and convinced his friends to act in this movie, which he wrote, directed and stars in. And he managed to get it accepted into last fall’s Vancouver International Film Festival. The catalogue even praised it highly as a screwball comedy with “delightful aplomb and infectious humor.” Don’t believe it. The film has lots of funny moments but they’re balanced by just as many boneheaded gags, stereotyping and one sequence bound to raise hackles among some of the west end’s residents.
Pollio plays an Italian immigrant who’s cajoled into working with two FBI agents in Vancouver. “The FBI in Canada?” he asks. “We’re everywhere,” he’s told. He has to impersonate a drug dealer, go undercover and infiltrate a local gang. Nobody would possibly believe his imposture, or the surprise turns in the plot, but this is comedy. Lots of slapstick ensues including a wild raid by a couple of bounty hunters sounding like southern good ol’ boys, or maybe Maple Ridge car dealers. John Cassini, Nicholas Lea, Terry Chen, Jay Brazeau and Ben Ratner are among the well-known B.C. actors adding their talents to this weak film. It opens in two theatres: one in Saskatoon, the other locally, in the west end. The Denman. 1 ½ out of 5
Also playing …
THE ROOMMATE: I was hoping this would be a sort of guilty pleasure this week, but the planned media and promo screenings were all cancelled. It’s not a good sign when a studio hides a film from the critics and the word-of-mouth public. The plot sounds like Single White Female from years ago, but now set at a college and starring a bunch of popular TV actors. Minka Kelly (of Friday Night Lights) plays a coed who has to share a dorm with Leighton Meester (of Gossip Girl and the recent movie Country Strong). The roommate starts out friendly enough, but is really a crazy stalking killer. Apparently. (International Village and many suburban theatres)
NOTE: The photos were supplied by the movie studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright woners.