The Lady, The Five-Year Engagement, Safe, Warriors of the Rainbow and four other new films reviewed
A lot of new films have opened this week, but only a few first-rate ones.
Here’s the list.
The Lady: 3 stars
The Five-Year Engagement: 2 ½
Warriors of the Rainbow: 4
Forgiveness of Blood: 4
The Pirates! Band of Misfits: 3 ½
The Raven: 2
THE LADY: How timely is this? Less than a month after Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in Burma’s parliament we get this inclusive biography of the Nobel Prize winner who spent over 15 years under house arrest for backing democracy over military rule. Also, it’s only days since Canada started easing up trade sanctions against her country.
The film works well as an introduction and a basic political backgrounder. She’s carrying on the ideals of her father who died promoting democracy. There are huge crowds at colorful rallies, tense scenes standing up to the army and devious machinations by the generals. Michelle Yeoh not only looks like her but effortlessly gets across the tenacity, even stubbornness, we’ve detected from many news reports over the years. But we can’t connect with a great deal of emotional investment because we get only broad celebratory strokes and very little about her as a person. The film flips back a few times too often to her former home in England to watch her husband (David Thewlis) feed her sons breakfast, start a Nobel campaign and get some bad medical news. For her that sets up a my-family-or-my-country dilemma, which unfortunately doesn’t come across to us very strongly. The director, Luc Besson from France, is known for action and spectacle, not sensitive drama. (5th Avenue, International Village) 3 out of 5
THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT: The stars (Jason Segel, Emily Blunt) are likeable, the film is amiable, the same people made the very funny Forgetting Sarah Marshall. So what happened here? Why does this comedy drag on and on and why does it not reward us with more laughs?
Segel and Blunt play a couple who get engaged in San Francisco (a year after they met at a New Year’s Eve party, she dressed as Princess Diana and he as a bunny). Ah, yes. Stretching to be cute. There’ll be more of that, starting with an engagement party where her sister gets overly teary in a speech and later gets knocked up. S & B’s wedding is naturally delayed. And then postponed again, when she get a post doc at a Michigan University. He goes too, and has to downgrade from his sous chef job to making sandwiches in a Jewish deli. He also takes up hunting and beard growing while she dallies with a professor who gets her promoted to assistant professor. And so it goes. Grandparents die off, funerals are held, but no wedding. For no good reason, by the way, except to prolong the story. There are funny bits here (and also many that are not funny) making the film so episodic that that it feels longer than it is. (The Ridge, International Village and suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
WARRIORS OF THE RAINBOW: This film and last week’s arrival A Simple Life were the big winners this year at the Asian film awards, both in Taiwan and in Hong Kong. And they couldn’t be more different. Life is a gentle film about human connection. Warriors is a giant epic, colorful, packed with battle scenes and action and effectively reawakening a tragic history. Since it deals with aboriginals resisting a takeover, it should stir up interest beyond Asian audiences here in B.C.
Japan got possession of the island of Taiwan over 100 years ago and promptly started logging the trees and subjugating the aboriginals by banning some of their cultural practices. In 1930, a tribal leader named Mouna Rudo inspired a rebellion to stop further losses to his people’s hunting grounds. The film shows the buildup and then the battles in exquisitely staged scenes. The pictures are huge and the story is engrossing. Rudo is not only fighting the Japanese but also other aboriginals, traditional enemies of his people. (That part of the tale isn’t always clear.) He also has to win over the skeptics in his own village and at a low point send the women and children off to commit suicide. It’s a remarkable film for the drama, the history and the equal attention it pays to the Japanese attempts to regain control. Originally shown at VIFF in two parts, it returns in a radically trimmed version. That’s OK. I counted six full-scale ambushes in the long one and several Japanese counterattacks. As exciting as they are, you can lose a few and you don’t need 4 ½ hours to tell the story of a rebellion that lasted only 50 days. (International Village, Silver City Riverport) 4 out of 5
THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD: They talk on cell phones and text their greetings and sometimes threats. They also carry on or suffer under an ancient code that permits revenge killings. That’s the startling contrast of modern and primitive that Joshua Marston dramatizes in this film set in rural Albania. He’s an American, who’s last film looked inside the drug trade in Colombia. This time he’s exploring kanun, a traditional legal code that has re-emerged since the end of communism.
A neighbor blocks a road. A baker trying to get his goods to town objects. An altercation. A death. And in quick succession a blood feud forces the baker to disappear, his son to hide out in his house and his daughter to forego university and drive that cart to deliver the bread. The film avoids a one-sided view and that makes it all the more real. And chilling as we come to realize this is going on today, and is apparently widespread and growing. The story is delivered with tense scenes of threat and intimidation and acted by a well-chosen cast of local people. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5
Playing in tandem with …
ROAD TO NOWHERE: A film about making a film from Monte Hellman, his first since 1988. He’s best known for a cult-favorite 1971 entry, Two-Lane Blacktop. Vancouver’s Tygh Runyan stars as a director making a movie about a murder in the American south.
THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS: Children won’t get as much out of this one as the adults who bring them. Oh sure, they’ll connect with the hapless pirate captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) and his quest to win the “Pirate of the Year” award. But Charles Darwin? He’s wants to be named “Scientist of the Year” does he? The key for both is a parrot that is really a thought-to-be extinct dodo bird and dressing up as girl guides is necessary. It’s the latest bit of inspired silliness from England’s Aardman Studios, the people who brought us Wallace and Grommit and others. This time their intricate claymation comes in 3-D.
As is usual in their work we get grand vistas, exciting chase scenes and lots and lots of small jokes on the side and in the background. Puns like “Napoleon Blownapart” are everywhere and sly rude comments show up. The humor is typically verbose and British and this time at least plays extra loose with history. This Darwin, for instance, is always moaning that he can’t get a girl. Actually, he was happily married. Queen Victoria (ranted by Imelda Staunton) comes off particularly badly and worse than any images Alice ever dreamt. Parents should be cautious. For everybody else, there’s almost too much happening here. The film is fun but over-stuffed with jokes, characters and action. (5th Avenue, International Village and suburban theatres) 3 ½ out of 5
SAFE: It’s a Jason Statham movie. What more do you need to know? He rarely varies from his little-talk, soulful-gaze and quick physical action routine. This time he’s a disgraced cage fighter (he didn’t take the dive he promised). A Russian gangster puts a curse on his head. He’ll have anyone who befriends or even talks to him killed. Jason is so distraught he’s about to throw himself under a New York subway train when he spots a young Asian girl pursued by some other bad guys and helps her escape.
Turns out she’s been brought from Hong Kong because of her phenomenal memory. She’s got a long number stored in there and both the Russian and a Chinese gang want it. A cabal of crooked cops are also after her, but they’re willing to work for which ever gang is willing to pay the most. I’ve never understood why New York allows such unflattering stories to be filmed in its streets. This time the corruption goes right up to the mayor. Gun battles break out anywhere anytime, even in the dining room of a fancy hotel. Statham, of course, stays honorable through all the shooting, car chases and hand to hand fighting in this fast-moving and entertaining blast of nonsense. (Scotiabank and suburban theatres) 2½ out of 5
THE RAVEN: I only bought into this only briefly. John Cusack is nicely watchable as a loquacious Edgar Allan Poe turned loudly tempermental by drink and setbacks in his writing career. But he’s given very little that’s interesting to say, even though one of the screenwriters is a Shakespeare (apparently a descendent of Bill’s). Also missing is a compelling story. This one gets tedious as it goes along.
Essentially it’s a speculation on the last mystery in Poe’s life, why he was found in a Baltimore park in 1849 raving and delirious. He died a few days later. The film posits that he was helping the police track down a serial killer who was acting out murders from Poe’s works, including The Cask of Amontillado, The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Pit and the Pendulum. There’s a gruesome three-time stomach slice for that last one. The killer gives Poe’s fiancé The Premature Burial and taunts the police with clues, an idea we’ve already seen in many American crime films. This one is not original, clever or credible. Early on, for instance, it kills off a rival critic who in real life actually outlived Poe and wrote his obituary. (International Village and suburban theatres) 2 out of 5
SNOW: Good intentions only go so far. This drama has an authentic feel as it looks at immigrants, their culture shock on arrival and the traumatic memories many carry with them. The director, Rohan Fernando has a good eye for those details. He’s drawing on his own experiences as an immigrant. It’s in the execution that he comes up short.
In his film, a young woman in Sri Lanka loses her family in the 2004 tsunami and comes to live with relatives in Halifax. They’re strict traditionalists; she’s compliant but gradually drifts and transforms as she meets other people at the hotel where she works and in a park she passes everyday. So far so good. That’s exactly what happens. But the story then piles on too much, too fast. Two people with thoughts of suicide. Cocaine at a party. Walking out on her relatives, as their own daughter did two years earlier. Hitchhiking with a young runaway to a hostile family home. Watching her buy heroin outside a church. A poignant story is reasonably-well acted by non-professionals but stomped by overkill and awkward writing. (Granville Theatre) 2 out of 5
NOTE: These images are movie stills provided by the studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.