Reviews of Moonrise Kingdom, Snow White, Bernie, Piranha 3DD and more, including two gems
So many choices, so little time. Please also note two artful films further down: In the Family and This is Not a Film.
Here’s the list:
Moonrise Kingdom: 4 ½ stars
Snow White and the Huntsman: 2 ½
Bernie: 3 ½
In The Family: 4
Where Do We Go Now?: 3 ½
We Have a Pope: 3
This is Not a Film: 4
Piranha 3DD: ½
Crooked Arrows: 2 ½
The Beginners Guide to Endings: --
MOONRISE KINGDOM: Some find Wes Anderson’s films too precious. I find the best of them, Rushmore and Fantastic Mr. Fox for instance, to be immensely entertaining. He’s at his clever and quirky best in this new one with a whimsical tale set in 1965 on an imaginary island off Rhode Island. It’s named New Penzance, probably an intentional reference to Gilbert and Sullivan. His characters and their actions are just as precisely mannered and absurd. He puts them into perfectly-framed, almost-storybook settings and puts on the record The Young People’s Guide to the Orchestra to entertain us.
The main plot has two pre-teens running away together. They obviously can’t get far but his scout leader (Edward Norton) and her parents (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand) as well as the local police chief (Bruce Willis) are too ineffectual to find them fast. There are two complications. There’s a major storm on the way. And the cop is having an affair with the mother. That helps splinter the search effort. So, young love contrasts with old, although that’s hardly the main thrust of this film. The stylized, wryly funny, idiosyncrasies Anderson wrangles into a nearly surreal whole are enough to make this film a real pleasure. No deeper meaning needed. (The Park and International Village) 4 ½ out of 5
SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN: So this is what you get when you spend $175 million to re-tell a well-known fairy tale: a big spectacle with battle scenes, great art direction and special effects but oddly a film that feels longer than it is. That’s partly that’s because director Rupert Sanders went for a heavy Shakespearean tragedy look and feel (as well as dollops of Lord of the Rings) but neglected the themes beneath. Also partly because Kristen Stewart is a less-than compelling heroine, even near the end when her Snow White takes on a Joan of Arc role. Much of the time, Stewart resorts to her specialty, sad-eyed moping. How the mirror could decide she’s the fairest in the land is beyond me.
Charlize Theron, on the other hand, owns this film with her displays of vanity, imperiously barking out orders or shrieking displeasure. She has an early speech about how men use women until they no longer need them. That idea isn’t mentioned again, one of several story elements that meander, pop up unexplained or fizzle off.
Chris Hemsworth brings Australian bravado to the role of the Huntsman, who becomes Snow White’s protector rather than killer. And the dwarves, eight of them, are played by full-size actors (Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsden, et al) reduced in size by visual effects. There are many excellent effects including a wonderful sequence in the forest as Snow White awakens to see fairies flitting about, looking exactly like the famous Cottingley fairies (at the bottom of the garden) almost 100 years ago. If only the film had as much magic throughout. (Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
BERNIE: Goofy Jack Black teams up with one of my favorite filmmakers, Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Me and Orson Welles, etc., etc.) and we get to enjoy an entertaining black comedy with a quirky true story. Linklater calls it his Fargo and it does have a similar eccentric vibe.
Black, with untypical restraint, plays a mortician in the small west Texas town of Carthage where the people love him. He works hard for his clients, their grieving loved ones and the entire community with a bottomless amiable charm. One widow (played with much scowling by Shirley MacLaine) becomes a friend and, because she’s rich, a frequent travelling companion. But when she tries to control him, he shoots her dead and hides the body in a freezer. True. It’s taken from a magazine article and a subsequent murder trial where laid-back Matthew McConaughey plays the prosecutor. It’s a sunny southern Gothic that never condescends but manages to make you sympathize with a killer because, well, he’s so nice and she was so mean. Real townspeople appear now and then (a little too often actually) to offer their memories and support. As one says, he’s not so bad. “He only shot her four times, not five.” (5th Avenue) 3 out of 5
IN THE FAMILY: This is a remarkable film in a number of ways. One, it stays calm and human when it could easily get shrill. Two it’s a very good first-film by writer/director Patrick Wang, whose background is in theatre. And most notably, Wang himself plays the lead role, giving a fine performance as a man ambushed by the legal system.
He plays Joey who’s family life, which the film takes great pains to paint as warm and loving, is shattered. His same-sex partner dies in a traffic accident leaving behind his young son and a will naming his sister as executor, owner of the house and guardian of the boy. Joey has to move out; the boy is taken away, both without malice but apparently required by law. Small-town Tennessee is the locale and it’s not portrayed as anti-gay or anti Chinese. These problems are self-created. Joey tries to launch a custody case and gives a moving account of his life and his affection for the boy. The acting and the dialogue are so natural it feels like we’re eavesdropping on real life, not scripted scenes. At the same time, many of those scenes go on too long and the film runs almost three hours. They’re definitely worth seeing though for their humanism and warm atmosphere. Also note: the director will be there tonight (Sat. June 2) to answer questions. (Denman Theatre) 4 out of 5
WHERE DO WE GO NOW?: This film was the audience favorite at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. It’s easy to see why. It’s infused with a lighthearted optimism and a lot of humor as it deals with an intractable problem, religious conflicts in a remote village somewhere in the middle East. Director Nadine Labaki is from Lebanon and the fact that the conflict is between Muslims and Christians suggests the story it set there. No location is mentioned though; Labaki prefers to keep the focus on the power of women to diffuse their men’s bellicose nature. Normally the two faiths get along. Then a new communal TV brings in pictures of sectarian riots from somewhere outside. Suspicions grow, bringing on vandalism and, after an accidental death, wild rumors and threats of violence. The women try to keep a lid on with songs (one about hashish, followed by appropriately-laced cookies), a fake miracle and a gaggle of Ukrainian strippers who happen to be touring nearby. It’s too fanciful to keep the momentum up all the way but works nicely as a warm and hopeful fable. (5th Avenue, International Village) 3 ½ out of 5
WE HAVE A POPE (Habemus Papam): Italy’s Nanni Moretti is known for wry comedies and is often compared to Woody Allen. It’s that territory he returns to (after a couple of strident political films). His peek inside the Vatican is gentle and not liable to offend anyone. He tells a story of a cardinal who is not only surprised to be elected pope but keeps the world, the press and the faithful in the plaza waiting as he’s paralyzed by self-doubt. Michel Piccoli plays him with quiet dignity, an everyman who feels he may not be up for a big job. That soul searching occupies the bulk of this film. Comedy is second, although there’s a funny turn by Moretti himself as a psychiatrist brought in to examine him but forbidden to ask certain questions? (“Unfulfilled fantasies and desires?” Not allowed). When the hesitant Pope goes wandering the streets to feel life outside, officials inside scramble to pretend everything is alright, he’s in his chambers praying.With volleyball inside and Chekov outside, the film eventually turns in too many directions but remains a pleasant diversion. (Ridge Theatre) 3 out of 5
THIS IS NOT A FILM: Jafar Panahi is under house arrest in Iran and banned from making films for 20 years. It’s something about which side he backed in an election. This then is a sly protest and his statement of defiance. He’s not, he reasons, banned from speaking his script into a camera and marking his sets with tape on a carpet.
With a friend doing cinematography, Panahi reads about a young girl prevented from attending university by her traditionalist parents. The presentation may sound dry but there’s so much going on in this film, including a great of humor, that you won’t get bored. The non-film was smuggled out in a USB flash drive, has been shown at festivals and plays four times this week. Actually it’s a superb film; an easy 4 out of 5.
It’s part of a weeklong series at the VanCity Theatre about dissent in Iran, which also includes an absolutely harrowing one: THE STONING OF SORAYA M. For more on all the films check out http://www.viff.org/theatre/
PIRANHA 3DD: As an imdb posting from England says:“just sit back and watch boobs and piranhas in 3d cant wish for more really ;).” OK, but I better warn you. This sequel to the hit from a couple of summers ago has more nudity (full-frontal now), less piranha carnage (the growling fish invade an Arizona water park but don’t show much on screen) and, most importantly, there’s a big, big helping of stupidity. The jokes are low class; the acting is terrible; most of the characters are creeps. They give us ludicrous sex, another penis severing and, in a genuine display of sick minds at work, the death of a child followed by a joke a bully might make. Guffaws transpire. Some of the special effects are made-in-B.C., thanks to our tax credits. Sad, that. One saving grace: David Hasselhoff comes in with a very funny, self-deprecating celebrity spot. “Welcome to rock bottom,” he mutters. ½ out of 5
CROOKED ARROWS: You can’t go wrong with a sports movie. Competition and that final big game are just so thrilling. Well, this film almost went wrong. Lacrosse is the game and the playing scenes are so badly filmed we’re not much drawn in, not even in the championship game. We should be roused to cheer, but we sit there interested but not excited.
There are positives. The film is set on a New York Indian reservation where the Lucky Casino serves Chinese buffet and a whiz-kid manager wants it to expand. He’s played by Brandon Routh, a former Superman who doesn’t look Indian at all but has some native blood in him. His character lives with cell phones and deal-making, natty suits and a hot car. The band council orders him to reconnect with his heritage by coaching the high school lacrosse team. He’s got a painful history in the sport which will come out in time. Before that we get philosophical speeches about the Creator, playing the game “for our ancestors” and ultimately a defiant “We’re a sovereign nation.” Interesting stuff but delivered with mixed acting and a lot of cliches. (SilverCity Riverport) 2½ out of 5
And one that I haven’t seen …
A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO ENDINGS: This Canadian tough-guys comedy got decent reviews when it played the Toronto Film Festival two years ago. Yet it’s taken a long time to come around. Harvey Keitel appears only a short time but overshadows all that comes after. He’s a gambler in Niagara Falls, or was. He dies and his three sons have to come to terms with an unusually-bad legacy he left behind, and with each other. Scott Caan, Paulo Costanzo and Hamilton’s Jason Jones, best known as a correspondent on The Daily Show, play the trio, each of whom has his own way of reacting. (Granville Theatre)
NOTE: The images are movie stills provided by the studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.