The Dictator, Battleship, Marley, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and three other films reviewed
Here’s the whole list:
The Dictator 3 stars
What to Expect … 2 ½
Turn Me On, Godammit 4
Sound of My Voice 3 ½
Nuit #1 ( part of DiverCiné) 3 ½
The Samaritan --
THE DICTATOR: Sacha Baron Cohen might want to be careful showing his new comedy in Arab countries. His antics as a Hussein- or Gadhafi-inspired despot, especially in the early scenes, are so broad and offensive, they’re bound to rile more than a few over there, even though he’s cautious enough to stay away from any mention of Islam. Here, we can take it all. We’re used to his style from Borat and Bruno. He flips his snappy zingers and cheap shots, occasionally as witty satirical comments and more often in rude bad taste. There’s also a gross childbirth sequence in this one that blends in a tender handholding love scene photographed from, wait for it, inside the pregnant woman. No, you don’t want to imagine it.
The story is quite standard. It could have been done by Eddie Murphy, or even Bob Hope: The dictator of a fictional African country just east of Sudan comes to New York to speak at the United Nations. He has to explain his nuclear ambitions but he’s kidnapped (at the behest of a resentful aide played by Ben Kingsley) and replaced with a look-alike. He ends up on the street and eventually in a vegan food co-op run by Anna Faris, who he calls a “lesbian hobbit”. Much humor like that ensues, some funny, a lot of it flat and weak. Many jokes are dragged on far too long. Faris, however, charms with an easy comic flair. I’ve heard about it but have never seen it from her before. (Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING: No childbirth advice, for one thing. Only the title comes from Heidi Murkoff’s multi-million best seller pregnancy guide. In fact, judging by the description of the latest edition, the screenwriters could well have found a few situations in there that are more interesting than what they’ve given us.
The film trips lightly through the most common pregnancy issues as experienced by five couples. Cameron Diaz and Matthew Morrison (from TV’s Glee) are celebrity dancers. Elizabeth Banks is a birthing expert who gets pregnant. Her father-in-law (Dennis Quaid) has a young blonde wife (former model Brooklyn Decker) who is expecting twins. Another woman (Jennifer Lopez) can’t conceive. She and her husband head to Ethiopia to adopt. Nothing extreme is included, except for an early miscarriage and a shriek for an epidural during delivery. Most problems, as for instance to circumcise or not, are resolved conveniently and easily. A toned-down Chris Rock leads a sort of Greek chorus of fathers pushing baby strollers in the park and offering pithy comments. It’s an amusing film but too light and superficial to be of much consequence. (The Ridge, International Village, and many suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
TURN ME ON, GODDAMMIT!: Originally God wasn’t in the title and he’s still not needed. This Norwegian import has plenty going for it on its own. It’s a breezy and very funny tale about that point in growing up when sex becomes more than a fascination and almost an obsession. For a change, it’s not about boys, but a girl, Alma, played by fresh and very natural Helene Bergsholm. She’s 15 and bored in her small town, which she gives the finger from the school bus and escapes through calls to a sex phone line and fantasies involving a boy named Artur. When, one day, he makes a rather bizarre move on her and she tells her friends, she’s called a liar and becomes ostracized.
Her world is depicted perfectly. Disputes with her mother. Refuge with her friends, until they shun her. Her cheeky responses to everything and an eye-opening trip to the big city (Oslo). Her fantasies ever continuing. In American teen comedies this would all be gross and vulgar. Not here. This film is enthralling, very real and full of droll deadpan humor. The director, Jannicke Systad Jacobsen, previously made documentaries. She won an award for her screenplay at the Tribeca Film Festival. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5
SOUND OF MY VOICE: The idea seems unbelievable but you’ll find yourself entranced anyway. There appears to be a dissection going on of a new age movement and the gullible people attracted to it. Wait long enough and the film seems to shift direction. Whatever you make of it, your interest will stay with the intriguing story and the upbeat actors.
Christopher Denham and Brit Marling are chief among them. He plays a mediocre teacher bent of making some kind of mark by secretly filming a documentary about her, the leader of a California cult. She claims to be from the future offering her subjects wisdom far ahead of their time. She expels non-believers and in a spellbinding sequence scolds to test him and wear down his confidence. The film accurately depicts the techniques of leaders like her. It does not make a convincing case though, as to why her followers trust her. A parallel story of an enigmatic schoolgirl eventually intersects and throws much of what you’ve thought into question. It’s a smart film, a bit carried away with its cleverness but alive with a captivating performance by Marling, who also co-wrote the script. She did the same double duty in her last film, last year’s slower and moodier Another Earth. (Fifth Avenue) 3 ½ out of 5
MARLEY: This documentary on the life and influence of reggae’s Bob Marley is long (145 minutes), detailed and apparently “definitive”. I haven’t seen it. The distributor’s on-line screener wouldn’t play for me.
From what I’ve read of people who have watched it, Marley comes across as warm and generous, passionate in his love for Jamaica, Rastafarianism, ganja and many women beyond his wife. We learn about the poverty of his early life (I didn’t know his father was a white plantation owner), his rise in music, right to his early death from melanoma. Many performance clips, but sadly not full-length songs, show how vibrant a performer he was. The film was authorized by his family. Director Kevin Macdonald got the idea to make it when he was in Africa filming The Last King of Scotland. He heard his music everywhere and came to realize how important and widely-loved it is. (5th Avenue Cinemas)
BATTLESHIP: It used to be that if you put enough action and explosions into a movie you could cover for any lack of intelligence. That doesn’t work here. Your brain will not be stimulated and, what’s more, much of the action is hard to follow and grows boring. That doesn’t seem to be a hindrance though. This film has already made millions overseas.
Loosely based on the board game, it is crafted into a slick salute to the American military. Liam Neeson plays a navy admiral; Vancouver’s Taylor Kitsch is a disappointing son who gets a chance to redeem himself and Rihanna (yes, the singer) is a sailor who operates artillery. Brooklyn Decker (one of the pregnant women in What to Expect …) is a rehabilitation therapist in this one. They’re all in Hawaii, ducking from or fighting off an alien invasion from outer space. Huh? Why aliens? No reason given, but Hasbro, the toy company behind it, has had huge hits with its Transformers movies. Battleship is like a knock-off with less personality (the aliens don’t speak at all) but some boisterous good-old-boy comedy and an ending that’s rousing enough to satisfy. Watch for a lengthy extra scene attached to the very end of the closing credits. (Scotiabank, The Dolphin and many suburban theatres) 2 out of 5
DiverCiné: The Pacific Cinémathèque's latest mini series of French language films has several treats for you. Two have already played here, HEADWINDS from France, just recently, and MONSIEUR LAZHAR, Canada's excellent Oscar nominee, for several weeks.
Two have only played festivals around here, THE KID WITH A BIKE, the very moving film from Belgium's Dardenne brothers and NUIT #1, the Quebec film that won both a Genie and, at the Vancouver International Film Festival, the award for best Canadian film. It's a chilling study of a couple's one-night stand and by extension modern romance in general. The first 15 minutes is all sex and pretty graphic at that.
Then he (Dimitri Storoge) starts talking about his frustrations with modern life. She (Catherine De Léan) is drawn into revealling her own secrets, why she, a schoolteacher, acts like a slut at night. It's a gripping, well-acted film and possibly a cautionary tale although with no alternative to suggest. It's easily a 3 ½ out of 5.
The films that have not been here before: VIVA RIVA! a stylish and exciting crime and revenge thriller from The Congo, featuring lots of gunplay and sex, OMAR KILLED ME, Morocco's submission to the Oscars, a true murder and courtroom drama, and A MONSTER IN PARIS, a big hit animated film from France in which a corrupt police chief gets his due. For more info and showtimes visit http://www.cinematheque.bc.ca/
Two other new films that I haven’t seen …
THE SAMARITAN: Samuel L. Jackson is getting the attention but Luke Kirby is the real centre of this Canadian film set in Toronto. Jackson plays an ex-con lured back into the grifter’s life by his former partner son (Kirby). Lies and double crosses surround a complicated story of murder, con games and eight million dollars. This Canadian stab at making a film noir has drawn a few positive reviews and a lot of the other kind. (International Village and Guilford theatres)
VIRGINIA: The critics hated this one when it premiered at the Toronto film festival almost two years ago. Is that why it’s taken so long to arrive? To be fair, a few had kind words too, usually about Jennifer Connelly’s performance. She plays a mentally ill mother (in Virginia, no less) who’s been in a 20-year affair with the local sheriff (Ed Harris). Now as he’s campaigning for a state senate seat, his daughter is seeing her son which is a delicate matter as he might be the boy’s father. The official synopsis says mother and son go “on a mad dash to seize their own brand of the American Dream – guns blazing.” A southern gothic with gun play directed by Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar a few years ago for writing Milk. (Granville Cinemas)
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