Rock of Ages, That's My Boy, The Artist is Present, Foreverland and more films reviewed
Some hit tunes from the 80s, crude jokes from today and a groundbreaking performance artist top the agenda this week. But watch for two Canadian films, one from here and one from Toronto.
Here's the list:
Rock of Ages: 3 stars
That's My Boy: 2 ½
Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present: 4
The Woman in the Fifth: 3
388 Arletta Avenue: 3
A Town Called Panic: 3 ½
God Bless America: --
ROCK OF AGES: Sex and scotch and rock ‘n’ roll. Huh? Shouldn’t that be drugs? Not here. They’re nowhere in sight. Whiskey is the intoxicant of choice and almost nobody gets high on it anyway. Well, maybe Tom Cruise, as an Axl Rose type named Stacee Jaxx, lead singer of a metal band called Arsenal but now going out on his own. He’ll do his first show at the Los Angeles club where the band got its start. There’s much ado about the event and he comes in spaced out and full of himself and as an aide proclaims “he’ll light this place on fire.” Cruise is terrific in the role, singing and prancing and playing mind games (and more physical ones too) with a Rolling Stone writer played by Malin Akerman.
Ok, but there’s all that other stuff to get through too in this film version of the Broadway show, which played here via a touring company just last month. That other stuff is a bland story of a young singer from Oklahoma (Julianne Hough) who meets another would-be star (Diego Boneta) while both work in a club on the Sunset Strip run by Alec Baldwin. The story is artlessly built around big hit songs by Def Leppard, Twisted Sister , Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon, and others. Over 30 of them, sometimes two mashed together. They’re all mainstream and inoffensive (although the sexual imagery with Foreigner’s I Want to Know What Love Is comes off as pretty daring). Still, the mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) are campaigning against the evil music. Paul Giamatti plays a, get this, nice guy manager. The view of the 1980s music scene is too idealistic to pass as real but the singing and staging are spirited and fun. (Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
THAT’S MY BOY: For a while it looks like Adam Sandler is going for another batch of Razzies. His bad taste humor is lower than ever, starting with an entire high school assembly cheering a teen having sex with his foxy math teacher. Later we’re treated to masturbation, a hot granny, gay gags, a grossly obese stripper and more, including something that tops them all for inappropriate amusement. It’s a surprise turning point so I won’t reveal it. More germane is what happens in between these scenes. The movie becomes very funny, even sweet (in a raunchy kind of way) about a man trying to re-connect with his son.
Sandler plays that teen almost 30 years later, now owner of a seedy strip club and a big tax bill. Andy Samberg is the son he produced with the math teacher and then raised ineptly. He’s now rich and a good prospect to hit up for a loan, or lure on to a ready-to-pay TV show. But he’s bitter, refusing to even acknowledge his father and about to marry into his boss’s family. The conflict plays out over a weekend at a country estate where Sandler livens up things, and all the guests, with his coarse ways, his gutter language and his exuberance. Low-class but the fans will like it. Vanilla Ice has a big role and Susan Sarandon has a neat cameo. She’s the math teacher years later. Her own daughter, Eva Amurri Martino, plays the younger version. (Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT: She also hopes this film will help legitimize performance art for non-believers. She’s a veteran practitioner herself, originally from Serbia and apparently marked by horrors of war and the national obligations her parents stressed upon her. Also their aloof parenting style, which she says sent her searching for love. Her performances over the years have included self-mutilation, nudity and bizarre gallery installations. All these came together two years ago at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in a retrospective of her major works—mostly re-creations by performers she trained herself—and a new piece designed for her by a former lover who is now the museum’s chief curator. He calls it a self-portrait.
This work is mesmerizing even here on film. All day, every day during the three-month show, she sat in a chair dressed in a long robe, like a religious figure. One by one people from the audience sat down facing her. Initially her eyes are closed. Then she looks up and locks eyes with the person staring at her. This goes on for some indeterminate length of time. We get several montages of these encounters for which people lined up for hours. There’s a fascinating variety in these silent interactions including a very poignant one with Ulay, her former husband and also a performance artist. (5th Avenue) 4 out of 5
FOREVERLAND: Emotional and well-intentioned you expect in a film like this, but there’s an extra here: sardonic humor. Not that easy to do when the subject is living with the fatal genetic disease cystic fibrosis. (The great documentary 65 Red Roses showed us Eva Markvoort’s brave but ultimately losing battle with it a couple of years ago). Humor keeps this fictional film from becoming sappy and self-pitying and the director’s own experience---Max McGuire is a victim himself—gives it an authentic feel. Some of the strongest scenes show the everyday challenges.
The story is fanciful. A 20-year-old played by Max Thieriot is terrified the disease is about to kill him. When a friend, who has died from it, asks him in a pre-recorded video to take his ashes to a shrine in Mexico, he’s not interested. He’s not one for chancy adventures but the friend’s sister (Laurence Leboeuf) talks him into it and off they both go in a restored Mustang, a birthday gift from his father. The car is stolen; they hitchhike and take buses, have a weird visit with a moralistic aunt (Juliette Lewis) and eventually reach the closed-up shrine and meet a backsliding priest, played by the Mexican star Demián Bichir. (He had an Oscar nomination this year for best actor). The message is simple: live whatever life you have left fully. The film tells it with a quiet passion and a light touch, good acting, a few story problems and great locations, most of them in B.C., including Vancouver, Tofino and the goats of Coombs. NOTE: Two producers and three actors,Matt Frewer for one, will do a Q&A after the 7:15 screening tonight, Friday. (5th Avenue) 3 out of 5
THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH: This one works fairly well as both a mystery and a consideration of madness and creativity. If you can stand some hazy story elements and at least one improbability, you’ll be kept interested, entertained and then more than a bit bewildered.
Ethan Hawke plays an American writer prone to, as he puts it, destroying everything he touches. That includes his life with his wife and daughter. He arrives in Paris trying to re-unite with them. The wife won’t have it and after he loses his suitcase and wallet on a bus ends up in a sleazy cafe in the suburbs. The owner gives him a room and job as a security guard in a dodgy bunker-like location where he’s warned not to ask questions. Both that man’s girlfriend and a bookstore owner recognize him as a published novelist which leads, on the one side, to a killing and, on the other, to a hook-up with a writer’s widow (Kristin Scott Thomas) in the more upscale neighborhood, the 5th. Their verbal exchanges are heavy with philosophical import but light on actual communication, certainly to us. A major twist confuses everything. The film is stylishly presented, but gloomy, low-key and obscure. In both English and sub-titled French. (International Village) 2 ½ out of 5
388 ARLETTA AVENUE: A small but involving thriller that will remind you of Michael Haneke’s Cache (a mysterious case of surveillance unnerves people in both films). You’ll also recall his fondness for surprise and unconventional endings. I’d have to give away the ending to say more so I’ll just hint that it’s clever but not all that satisfying. Until then, though, you’ll be following every unsettling step in this story.
Nick Stahl and Mia Kirshner play a Toronto couple whose lives are interfered with. He’s in advertising; she’s writing a thesis on Afghan embroidery. When gadgets act up and songs appear on his computer that he didn’t put there, they argue and she disappears. He (in an uncharacteristically clumsy plot twist) assumes an old schoolmate (Devon Sawa ) that he used to bully many years ago has taken her.
He confronts the man, a soldier who served in Afghanistan and is now working in an animal shelter. A severed cat head appears in his mailbox. Police think he’s going crazy and suspect he killed his wife. And so the story goes. We don’t know what’s real and what’s not. Until that ending. There are far too many spy cameras in play to be credible and the dialogue is unexciting but there’s good suspense that grows and nags. (Granville Theatre) 3 out of 5
A TOWN CALLED PANIC: For something completely different and utterly enjoyable you could catch this cult animated film from Belgium. It’s constructed entirely with plastic toys and filmed in stop-motion but achieves a grand spectacle with a loopy story.
Cowboy and Indian, who share a house with Horse, decide to build him a barbeque as a birthday present. Through an on-line ordering mistake they get 50 million bricks (not 50) and through a series of increasingly wilder turns in the plot they find themselves under the sea, at the earth’s core, in the Arctic with a snowball-tossing robot penguin, and more. It feels like the creators just wrote in whatever toys they got hold of. The result is very funny, with action and dialogue that’s speedy to frantic. There’s also a sweet love-story as Horse is smitten with a piano teacher. It’s all absurd, preposterous and a great deal of fun. The movie is safe for kids, but note that it’s in French and the subtitles come so fast they may prove hard to catch. (Pacific Cinematheque one o’clock Saturday afternoon) 3½ out of 5
And one I haven't seen ...
GOD BLESS AMERICA: is for fans of vicious satire, films like Network or the little seen Idiocracy. This is comedian Bobcat Goldthwait's latest about an office worker who goes postal. He can't take it anymore and starts shooting people he doesn't like including right-wingers, obnoxious TV personalities and people who talk in movie theatres. Gee, W.C. Fields only smashed people's cars in a film long ago.
Showing on five days starting Saturday at the VanCity Theatre. Goldthwait will be there Sunday to introduce it and take questions after. The theatre is also showing three other films by him and one of his stand-up performancers. Details at http://www.viff.org/theatre/
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