Movie reviews: Monsieur Lazhar,The Grey, newspaper films and Bollywood hit Agneepath
Its a good week for movie fans. Many new titles and many of them very good. It’ll be hard to choose.
Here’s the list:
Monsieur Lazhar: 4 ½ stars
Pina 3-D: 4
(part of 10 Great Newspaper Films)
The Grey: 3
Back to the Sea: 2 ½
One For the Money: 2 ½
Man on a Ledge: 2 ½
MONSIEUR LAZHAR: I can’t think of a thing to criticize about this film. It’s that close to perfect and the fact that it’s Canadian and has an Academy Awards nomination makes it even better. It hits some of the same points as Incendies, our Oscar candidate last year, and from the same producers incidentally; points about the trauma some immigrants bring with them and continue to suffer for a long time. It delivers them in a much less harrowing way though which makes the film deceptively much more easy to take.
The story is set in a Quebec school where a teacher has committed suicide and a man from Algeria, played with quiet dignity by Mohamed Fellag, is the only person willing to take over her class and her classroom. He’s an old school type. He wants the pupils reading Balzac and their desks in straight lines. He’s also got psychological baggage from back home that he prefers not to talk about.
Two children, meanwhile, the only ones who actually saw the first teacher’s body hanging, are also traumatized. Emilien Neron and Sophie Nelisse give remarkable performances, he about the guilt he feels and she making accusations. Director Philippe Falardeau keeps all these elements interacting smoothly alongside the inevitable intrusions by school officials citing policy and gives us a moving, wise and surprisingly upbeat film. (International Village) 4 ½ out of 5
PINA 3-D: Pina Bausch was an innovator in modern dance. This glorious spectacle of a movie is a tribute and an appreciation created after her death by Wim Wenders, a fellow German and a friend. There’s both artistry and love portrayed in every frame as members of her company perform several of her dance pieces and talk about how she cajoled them to push themselves. “You just have to get crazier” one recalls her saying. “Don’t forget you have to scare me,” was another line.
The dancers respond. They’re throwing water and rocks around in one piece. In another, a man struggles to get his malfunctioning legs working. Café Muller depicts a vibrant drama in a chaotic field of chairs. Wenders uses the 3-D camera to bring an exhilarating depth to these scenes and his imagination to take some of these dances outside, on to an escalator, for instance, on the street or on a trolley bus. This is a joyous film that even people with no interest in dance can easily be grabbed by. (Park Theatre) 4 out of 5
TABLOID: This wildly entertaining documentary by Errol Morris kicks off a week of newspaper films at the VanCity Theatre. And what an odd and totally engrossing piece of work this is as it revives the story of the beauty queen and the “manacled Mormon” that had all England reading and talking back in the late 1970s. Obsession collides with repression and at the height of the tale’s run, on the very same day, two tabloid papers had completely different and exclusive “real” stories.
Both seem to be true. Joyce McKinney happily explains her side; why, over 30 years ago, she followed her boyfriend from Utah to the U.K., kidnapped him, tied him to a bed and had sex with him. She was rescuing him from a cult. But as we also hear an accomplice, two former tabloid staffers and an ex-Mormon with their versions, the story gets progressively weirder, funnier and eventually sadder. It lands in court, Joyce gets away and by the end even a seemingly unrelated dog cloning in Korea makes a certain kind of sense. The film demonstrates precisely why this kind of journalism is so alluring and also anticipates today’s mania for celebrity news. (First time in Vancouver and screening five times) 4 out of 5
Nine other films play once each. There are the classics like All the President’s Men, Citizen Kane, and His Girl Friday in which the first thing you hear is somebody calling for the copy boy), lesser known yarns like Why Rock the Boat set at the old Montreal Star and recent films like The Paper by Ron Howard and Page One about efforts at the New York Times to adapt to the internet age. Get details on the website. Note that on Saturday afternoon, CBC Radio’s Stephen Quinn leads a panel of journalists to talk about today’s news business.
AGNEEPATH: This is one of the most intense movies you’ll ever see. It starts out that way and rarely lets up with a tale of family and revenge, packed with passion, violence and brutal hand to hand combat. The film has only just opened and is already a mammoth hit, maybe because it’s a return to classic Bollywood, not one of those Hollywood knock-offs we’ve been getting recently.
Three hours long, with several songs and three major dance numbers built in, a love story plus a spectacular festival celebrating the elephant-headed god, Ganesh, you get everything you need. Hrithik Roshan, India’s number one star these days, plays the man seeking revenge. As a boy he saw a drug lord kill his father and burn his house down. He escapes to Mumbai and becomes a gangster himself working towards the day he can come back to kill the killer, played with a maniacal laugh and cold power by Sanjay Dutt. Roshan glowers and strides purposefully, they’re his best acting chops, and when he does return he’s compared to an avenging god. By the end you’ll feel you’ve been through the wringer. The film is a re-make of an Amitabh Bachchan classic from 1990. The story is the same but a lot of new money has boosted the production values immensely. (Denman Theatre, plus the Guilford and the Grande in Surrey). 3 out of 5
THE GREY: Wolves don’t hunt men and eat them. They stay away from them. They don’t hover in the dark with their eyes glowing. They do that in this film though, and what a wily and persistent lot they are. They cause some good scares for you here and an existential test for Liam Neeson.
He plays a wolf hunter on an Alaska oil site. When he and six other men survive a plane crash on the frozen tundra, his survival skills and wolf expertise get an extreme workout. Also his ability to ditch feeling sorry for himself over the earlier death of his wife. She appears to him in memory visions offering the advice: “Don’t worry”. That’s a bit creepy considering that Neeson lost his own wife in a skiing accident but he does seem able to portray a lingering grief. Then he gets busy leading the men (even the obstreperous one) as the wolves pick them off one by one. The alpha wolf, by the way, does not look convincing but the ordeal that the humans go through does. Strongly. The film was shot in Smithers and locally in Lynn Canyon and admits some similarity to Alive (also shot in B.C.) by letting the characters talk about it. (Scotiabank and suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
BACK TO THE SEA: This animated film was made in China, is voiced mostly by Americans and has three points of connection to British Columbia. A local company is the distributor (for the whole world outside of China); more than a few UBC students went over to work on it and Gordon McGhie of Kelowna wrote the music. So what have they created? A fairly charming tale for kids with bright but rather basic animation. It feels and sounds like it was made for TV.
Kevin, a young flying fish in New York harbor, dreams of fabled Barbados but gets scooped up one day by a fish net and lands in an aquarium in the city’s number one Chinese restaurant where he can aspire to “catch of the day”. He realizes that’s not really an honor and plots an escape. He also strikes up a friendship with the owner’s young son (somewhat a challenge since they can’t talk to each other). The son is also under pressure to prepare for a cooking contest and in an odd turn (in this seafood restaurant) resolves never to eat or cook fish again. There’s also a thief skulking about trying to retrieve a giant pearl from the aquarium. A lot of plot there, and sometimes overly talky but the high-spirited voice cast includes Tim Curry, Christian Slater, Tom Kenny (yes, Spongebob), and Mark Hamill, (that’s right, Luke Skywalker). (Granville and three suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
ONE FOR THE MONEY: Katherine Heigl ditches the blonde hair color and the frothy movies she’s known for and walks on the wild side. Well, sort of. She’s a bit like Lucy, all startled and unsure of herself out there among the guns, and the hookers and the bail jumpers.
She plays a divorcee in New Jersey who, in trying to create a life of her own, takes a job as a bounty hunter. Her prize target is an ex-cop who years ago was her first lover. Why, the scenes practically write themselves and include car chases, a lot of a bad guys killing people who help her and she getting handcuffed to immovable objects. They’re from the first of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels. Many will find it brisk and entertaining and Heigl endearing. Notice though, that nobody comes across as a real person, not least of all granny, played by Debbie Reynolds, when she shoots the turkey on the Thanksgiving table. (Granville and several suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
MAN ON A LEDGE: Now here’s an achievement. This film is implausible in all of three ways. Sam Worthington plays the man up there on a 21st storey ledge in New York City. How he got there, what he’s doing and why he has to do it are all mere scriptwriter contrivances, not real.
You’ll have to suspend a lot of logical thinking to enjoy it.
The man is a former cop, framed in a diamond theft, escaped from prison and proclaiming to various negotiators, one played by Elizabeth Banks, and to a restive crowd in the street below, that: “I’m innocent. This is my re-trial.” Two friends are helping with that. They’re breaking into a mammoth vault in the building next door to prove that the diamond was never stolen but is still in the hands of a devious property developer (Ed Harris). A bit of tension, a lot hokum and some watchable but purely mindless fun. (Suburban theatres only) 2 ½ out of 5
NOTE: The images are movie stills provided by the studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.