Film reviews: John Carter, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Silent House
Who says we don’t recognize our own movies here in Canada? The Genies last night did it exactly right. They gave six awards, including most of the top ones, to Monsieur Lazhar. This is an excellent film from Quebec about an immigrant teacher in a school that suffered a tragedy.
It won as best picture and awards for direction, editing, screenwriting and two for acting. Earlier it was nominated for an Oscar. I gave it 4 ½ stars. If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s showing at the International Village.
This week’s newcomers, however, aren’t as good. Here’s the list.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: 3 ½ stars
John Carter: 3
Silent House: 3
Friends With Kids: 2 ½
Grandma’s Boy: --
A Thousand Words: --
SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN: Here’s an immensely likeable film and, dare I say it, a perfect date movie. It’s part romantic comedy, part political satire (relatively mild) and all intelligent. Unless you’re a fisheries biologist.
Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt are charming as a couple brought together by a job that shouldn’t make sense. A sheik from Yemen, who lives part-time in Scotland and has become a fly-fishing enthusiast, wants to bring salmon to his country’s rivers.
“Fundamentally infeasible,” grumps McGregor over at the Fish and Agriculture Department. Salmon need cold water. Do it, orders Kristin Scott Thomas as a government press officer. Pacific salmon live as far south as California, she says, and anyway because of some unpleasantries in Afghanistan, Britain needs a good news story from the Middle East. Blunt plays the sheik’s investment advisor and compared to McGregor’s “stiff upper lip” describes herself as “more of a gusher.” In other words, opposites and perfect for a romance, even though both have spouses currently out of the country. We get bright dialogue and a nicely satiric view of bureaucracy. The geo-political expertise, like the biology, isn’t nearly as sharp although there are rebels in Yemen who do make a mess of their plans. (5th Avenue) 3 ½ out of 5
JOHN CARTER: A friend tells me this film does a good and faithful job of putting this old sci-fi fantasy on to the big screen. Unfortunately, these days, that’s not good enough. We need updating as well. Edgar Rice Burroughs published the story over 100 years ago, initially as a magazine serial and then, when he became famous with his Tarzan stories, as the first of a series of novels. His hero travels to the planet Mars, lands in the middle of a civil war that’s been on for 1000 years and rescues a princess from a forced marriage.
Pretty quaint, I’d say. A lot like Flash Gordon and many sword and sandal epics and riddled with questions. How does he get from an Arizona cave to Mars? Why does he meet both English-speaking humanoids and lizard-like creatures with six arms and subtitled speech? How does he learn to understand them? And what’s going oin in this war anyway? The script doesn’t help us much but does fling about exotic names we don’t remember and esoterica about sacred rivers and “ancient rites of moons and water.” We’re left with an obscure story but great spectacle.
There are desert chases, airship battles and a gladiator showdown with two giant albino apes all ably directed by Andrew Stanton, with the visual sense he honed in his animated films Finding Nemo and Wall-E but a bit short on excitement. Taylor Kitsch (from Kelowna, Coquitlam and TV’s Friday Night Lights) is fine playing Carter as a steely hero with a touch of modern cynicism. Fans of the Rome mini-series will notice Caesar and Mark Antony together again, with Ciarán Hinds and James Purefoy now playing Martians. As for the 3D, it’s not worth the extra money. (Dophin, Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
SILENT HOUSE: From the time that Sarah sits on a rock at a lake’s shore, gets up and walks to a large summer house where she meets her father and uncle who are fixing it up to prepare it for sale and seem to have a bit of a disagreement when they find a patch of mould and leave her alone in various dark rooms with only a lantern to help see because the power if off, and she hears clunking noises and dares to search both up in the attic and down in the basement and sees a hazy figure pulling a body but is unable to get out because all doors are locked and windows are stuck shut although when she does get out, she is brought back in for more frights, we’ve been treated to a nicely tingling succession of scares and a gimmick.
The story has been filmed in one long run-on shot, like that previous sentence, with no edits. No apparent ones, anyway.
Directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau have remade a film from Uruguay which also used that same technique. It was hardly necessary. We don’t even notice it, unless we’re looking for it. Smooth editing could have produced the same result and maybe trimmed out some excess.
But this is a pretty effective haunted-house thriller. Elizabeth Olsen (sister of the Olsen twins) plays Sarah with a natural ease and four tense scenes in which she struggles to control her hysteria. Is it all in her mind or is it really happening? The story keeps you guessing but then comes to a confusing end. It’s supposed to be a surprise but feels so out of step with what has come before. (International Village and suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
FRIENDS WITH KIDS: Here’s a romantic comedy that strives to be different and offers up a clever premise but ends up much the same as the rest. Two long-time friends in New York (Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt, who is also the writer and director) decide to have a baby without getting married or even living together. He’s a womanizer; she’s racing the biological clock. They’ve seen their friends (Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd; Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm) turn into squabbling couples when their kids came and are convinced they can do better. They share the childcare duties 50-50 but keep leading their own separate love lives.
When he dates Megan Fox, who he describes as “a skinny flexible dancer with a big rack” and she lands a Mr. Big (Edward Burns), jealousy creeps in.
Acrimony and tears soon follow, and not just between them but the whole ensemble. It becomes less about what one character calls “babydom” or that unusual arrangement and more about marriage itself, highlighting much more of the failings than the successes though. The script offers witty dialogue, quite a few laughs and language that’s far more vulgar than you’d expect from middle-class urbanites like these. And there’s little that’s endearing about children. It’s a bit smug actually. (International Village and three suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
Also now playing (or soon) …
GRANDMA’S BOY: Apparently thousands of people dropped by to snap a photo of an old movie poster/mural uncovered downtown recently by a wrecking crew. It was on the side of a building at Granville and Robson and promoted a one-week booking, in 1922, across the street at the old Capitol Theatre. The film had Harold Lloyd, one of the silents’ greatest comedians, playing a timid boy who has to deal with a bully. The New York Times called it “amusing nearly always and hilarious a good part of the time”.
Good then, for Tom Charity over at the VanCity Theatre, to seize the opportunity, find the film and screen it. You can catch it Wed night at 7. The theatre is at Davie and Seymour.
A THOUSAND WORDS: Eddie Murphy didn’t do the Oscars this year but he’s trying to come back as a movie star. Tower Heist was his first lead role in a couple of years and now we get one that’s been on the shelf for four years. It was his follow-up to the widely detested Norbit, and had the same director, Brian Robbins, in charge. So, the prospects don’t seem bright but with no media previews locally it’s hard to be definite about that. Murphy plays a huckster who cheats a guru and is punished with a deadline. He can speak only 1,000 more words before he dies, which must be hard on a motor mouth like him. (International Village and a few suburban theatres)
NOTE: Most of these images are movie stills supplied by the studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.