Bully, The Hunter, Keyhole, The Deep Blue Sea: movie reviews
Hockey and nine new films. Who’s got time for it all? Here’s the list to help you choose.
Bully: 3 ½ stars
A Simple Life: 4
The Hunter: 3 ½
The Deep Blue Sea: 3
Cabin in the Woods: 2 ½
Streetdance 2: 2 ½
The Three Stooges: --
BULLY: There’s been so much written about this film and the controversy over its U.S. rating, you might have a wrong impression. It’s an important film but more modest than you might expect. Moving, powerful, yes. But frightening and heartbreaking? Not quite. It’s too standard a documentary for that.
We hear from, or about, five victims of bullies. Two have killed themselves and their fathers tell their stories, one saying of his son “He had a target on his back”. A teen girl is ostracized for coming out as a lesbian. Another in Mississippi waves a gun at her tormentors on the school bus. We see it on a security tape.
The bulk of the film is about 12-year-old Alex in Iowa, who tells of pencil stabs, punches, chocking and obscene threats. Why? Because he looks different. “They call me Fishface,” he says. He doesn’t complain, though. After the filmmakers caught an actual attack on camera, he muses: "I'm starting to feel I don't feel anything any more."
The film says 13 million American kids are bullied every year and watches with unspoken contempt as school officials say they can’t do much about it. “Kids will be kids,” one says. Just as misguided is a teacher we see trying to get a suspected bully and a victim to shake hands.
I wish we could hear what motivates a bully. Somewhere in the US, there must be a reformed one who’s thoughtful enough to analyze his past. What we do get here is strong backing for an anti-bullying campaign and, most importantly, speaking up. (International Village) 3 ½ out of 5
A SIMPLE LIFE: Humble, perhaps, but not that simple. This is a true story about a woman who served a Hong Kong family as a maid for 60 years—she was an orphan when she started—and decides to quit and move into an old age home after she suffers a mild stroke. She’s played with humor and grace by veteran actress Deannie Yip who has won awards in Venice, Taiwan and Hong Kong for the role.
The last member of the family still living there and not emigrated to the U.S. is a young accountant in the movie industry, based on real life director Roger Lee and played by mega-star Andy Lau, who has also been winning awards. He takes it upon himself to pay her bills and visit whenever he’s in town. The bond between them is strong and subtly develops with lots of goodwill and little sentimentality. At the same time, the film is an authentic exploration of old age, of the caregiver industry that has sprouted up and the changes in Hong Kong society that make it necessary. This is a very rich and heartfelt film by veteran director Ann Hui. Fans will be able to spot walk-ons by other movie types including Tsui Hark and Angelababy. (Riverport and Station Square) 4 out of 5
KEYHOLE: I’ve seen this one twice now and I still can’t tell you what it means. But I had a good time. It’s one of those movies you just have to give yourself to. Go with the flow, as we used to say.
The flow has a 30s-style gangster named Ulysses (Jason Patric) returning to his family home with a quarrelsome gang, a nearly-drowned young woman and a bound-and-gagged young man who he doesn’t recognize is his own son. Then things gets strange. He’s trying to get upstairs to reunite with his wife (Isabella Rossellini), possibly to kill her or, worse, ask forgiveness. She has her own father chained up, naked and showing his willy to the camera repeatedly and in one scene, through a double exposure, simulating a BJ on a penis-shaped lever. There’s much more.
The house is full of emotional (and possibly actual) ghosts out of Ulysses' memories. It’s a Freudian dream in shimmering black and white concocted by Winnipeg’s Guy Maddin. His fans around the world will get it. I’d say “Remember, Guy. But also reach out.” (International Village) 3 out of 5
THE HUNTER: Tasmania looks very much like British Columbia. That’s my strongest response to this scenic excursion into the wilds of the Australian state, which also has a huge logging industry and, get this, environmental protests over logging. This film, from a popular novel by Julia Leigh, puts all that in the background as it takes an offbeat ecological route and offers us a strikingly ironic ending meant, I suppose, to make us think.
Willem Dafoe plays the hunter, an American sent there by a British drug company to search out the Tasmanian tiger. It’s not a cat but a relative of the kangaroo and apparently extinct since 1936, although rumored to have been sighted again recently. He’s to kill it and bring back DNA for cloning. Loggers glower at him thinking he’s an eco-freak. One is all too eager to help him while another tries to shoot him. All the while he staying with a drug-addled mother who’s husband is missing and who’s two children awaken his moral side. Out among the trees and the cliffs he’s all craggy-faced intent on setting traps (yes, leg-hold and others). Watching those two sides of him is highly involving, thanks to Dafoe’s honest performance, and the film, although a bit slow at times, has atmosphere and tension to spare. (5th Avenue Cinemas) 3 ½ out of 5
THE DEEP BLUE SEA: Adultery is pretty common these days in TV shows but back in 1950s London, as per this play by Terrence Rattigan, it was approached with trepidation and could bring great anguish. Rachel Weisz conveys a great deal of that as a well-off wife who leaves her dull husband (a very proper judge) for excitement with a former fighter pilot played by Tom Hiddleston.
We know right from the start that it didn’t go all that well. When we first see her she’s trying to commit suicide. Flashbacks show us a flyboy who hasn’t grown up and can’t commit as strongly as she does. His best times are spent singing with the patrons down at the pub. They argue, break up and make up but there’s little real love between them. Her husband, meanwhile, is decent but not a passionate type. The dilemma is played out at a deliberate pace (that means slow, to some) and with English reserve and absolutely correct pronunciation. Directed by Terence Davies, who lived through those years, this film brings back a style as proper and underplayed as the judge. It’s intelligent adult fare, and rather refreshing. (5th Avenue Cinemas) 3 out of 5
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS: It’s cleverly written and briskly paced, but I don’t detect nearly as much deep thought about horror movies, our need to feel scared now and then and other quirks of humanity as many other critics do. Reading some of them, you’d think this is a major philosophic dissertation. What it really amounts to is a witty riff on one specific type of horror, the slasher film, by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, who collaborated on the TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and others. They purport to explain why cultures around the world tell scary story. Actually, they really only state that it’s true. Not why. But they entertain the fans with insider references and allusions.
They take a standard slasher plot—a car full of young people head to a remote cabin to party and are one by one threatened and possibly killed--put another level on top of it (SPOILER ALERT: cameras watch them for reality TV) and then put another level on top of that. That one I won’t reveal but I do think it is more ludicrous than cerebral and mythological which it wants to be. And more bloody as red goo and flesh are flung about. The young people are the usual crowd, the virgin (somewhat), the pothead, the scholar (he’s also the lone black), the sexpot and her jock boyfriend (Chris Hemsworth, before he became Thor). The film was made here in Vancouver about three years ago and delayed up by studio instability. It’s slick, sprinkled with scares and laughs and getting too high a spot on a pedestal. (Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
STREETDANCE 2: About a year and a half ago, we got another of these dance-battle films that turned out to be a nice surprise. And in England, a big hit. So, here is the sequel which offers more of the same, even down to a similar plot line. In the first one, the dance crew hoping to win contest (and overcome an embarrassing loss) brought in some ballet elements. Now, the added flavor is Latin, through the sultry moves of Sofia Boutella, Algerian-born and known for Nike commercials and Madonna tours.
The story has an American (Falk Hentschel) recruit the best dancers from around Europe (we get a nice tour) and try to mold them into a cohesive unit in time for a big competition in Paris. We get the tale in two minute bits between dance numbers. Well, there is a stretch near the end when the leader chokes, the sultry woman quits and her Uncle Manu (Tom Conti) ends up in hospital. That all takes longer, maybe four minutes, to resolve. Then it’s back to the only thing that really matters here, the dancing. It is exhilarating and often imaginative, as in a sequence that has feathers flying all over the screen and right at us in 3-D. (International Village and three suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
LOCKOUT: They’re not even trying to hide it anymore. I’m referring to some action films’ similarity to video-games. Usually it’s evident only in the story line. Here it’s through the whole film, including the look and the action. If there weren’t live actors on screen, it would feel totally computer-generated.
The year is 2079. Guy Pearce, imitating of one of Robert Downey Jr.’s irreverent personas, stars as a disgraced U.S. government operative who starts the film being interrogated violently and, of course, talking back. Then he gets a chance to redeem himself with a mission to a super maximum prison in outer space to rescue the president’s daughter (Maggie Grace). She’s up there hoping to expose the private corporation that runs it. The inmates take it over though, and Guy has to advance room by room, incident by incident, just like levels in a computer game, to find her. It’s silly, fast-paced and entertaining all in one, an assembly-line product out of the busy film factoryof France's Luc Besson. (International Village and suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
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THE THREE STOOGES: I don’t anticipate much from this one. After all, the Farrelly Brothers’ recent films have been weak. It’s been 14 years since There's Something About Mary and 16 since Dumb and Dumber, to which, by the way, they’re making a sequel. And do we really need the Stooges getting mixed up with Snooki and her pals on Jersey Shore, getting off Kardashian jokes and disciplined by Jane Lynch as a nun? Two of the slapsticking trio are played by Canadians: Moe by Chris Diamantopoulos from Toronto and Curly by Will Sasso of White Rock. (International Village and many suburban theatres)
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