Opening this week are THE WATCH and STEP UP REVOLUTION. 2 documentaries both worth watching AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY and JOFFREY: MAVERICKS OF AMERICAN DANCE also open.
The Summer in France series at the TIFF Bell Lightbox continues for those close to Toronto.
AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY (China /USA 2012) ****
Directed by Alison Clayman
This was the opening film for HOT DOCS 2012 which tells the story of China’s most famous and controversial artist Ai WeiWei. Alison Clayman has the best credentials for the making of this doc as she worked as a freelance journalist (NPR, PBS Frontline) in China from 2006 to 2010.
If you have never heard of Ai WeiWei, this is the film to learn about him. Ai was the artistic consultant for the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics. But he is also a fighter for freedom, anti-censorship and human rights. So, it is of no surprise that he speaks right out against the Chinese Government re: many of their policies that he disagrees with; hidden information following a massive earthquake. Clayman’s doc is exactly what a doc should be and perhaps the best pick as the opening film for Hot Docs.
The film is educational, informative, riveting and ultimately uplifting. The film introduces Ai, informs the audience of his works, his influence on society and vice versa and also concludes with his present status after 81 days imprisonment, which shows a more quite restrained humbled artist. An important lesson Ai likely learned is not to bite the hand that feeds you – especially if that hand happens to be the Chinese government. This is a vast contrast to a man who would wear a banner ‘Mother f**er’ on his head opposing the government.
But Clayman’s film gives the audience the artist’s highest respect, especially after the government has bulldozed his studio and imprisoned him for 2 months. The film contains intervierws with Ai, his brother, his wife and the woman who fathered a child with him. Various of his works (like the sunflower seen exhibit) are also on display in the film. There is also a neat segment showing how one of his many cats actually opens a door in WeiWei’s house.
JOFFREY: MAVRICKS OF AMERICAN DANCE (USA 2012) ***1/2
Directed by Bob Hercules
Director Bob Hercules’ documentary jumps into American dance right from the very start as if there is no time to lose. This captures the urgency and spirit of the founders and dancers of the JOFFREY Dance Company, the subject of this comprehensive doc on American dance.
Whether a dance fan or not, this film will definitely convince you to part with your hard earned money for a chance to watch the dancers in performance.
If not a definitive history on the JOFFREY dance company, the doc also serves as an exhaustive examination of American Dance history. The film is spirited, informative, exciting and dramatic. Director Hercules also captures a part of the love story that exists between the company’s co-founders.
The film occasionally soars to emotional heights. Hercules’ narration includes the fact that Arpino and Joffrey were initially lovers, but the art of dance in their relationship allowed their partnership to go way past the years when the sex was over. The segment where one of the dancers discovers her picture on the cover of Time Magazine after waking up one morning is priceless.
The film also documents the hardships involving any arts company – like funding, touring and competition. One also learns and respects Joffrey for the visionary and maverick that he is – besides being a hardworking genius.
KILLER JOE (USA 2011) ****
Directed by William Friedkin
William Friedkin’s (THE EXORCIST, THE FRENCH CONNECTION) KILLER JOE is a totally demented hit-man drama has all the sex, mayhem, violence and outrageousness that makes it such a guilty joy to watch.
22-year old Chris (Emile Hirsch) broke, desperate and not very bright barges into his equally dumb father’s (Thomas Haden Church) trailer with the only plan he can think of: murder. If they kill his mother, they can collect enough insurance money ($50,000) to settle his drug-dealing debts and escape their squalid little life. But he hires KILLER JOE (Matthew McConaughey), a demented Dallas cop with no money to pay till they collect the insurance money.
Joe takes Chris’ younger sister, Dottie as a retainer. Things of this nature never turn out as planned. The two develop a bond. After the murder is committed, a double cross is revealed with things getting bloodier and bloodier. Every actor is exceptionally good in this movie with Gina Gershon stealing the show as Chris’ stepmother.
The only flaw is the over eventful climax, the sort that is normally seen in a play about murder, which comes as no surprise as this film was based on the play by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Tracy Letts. William Friedkin is in top form!
STEP UP REVOLUTION (USA 2012) *
Directed by Scott Speer
The dance hip-hop, rap competition has been more than a well worn film genre in recent years. STEP UP REVOLUTION is also not the first of its kind in 3D, as there was a STEP UP 3D.
Though much have been attempted by scriptwriter Jenny Mayer to alter the format of the exercise, the film still remains a complete bore except for the dance sequences when the film springs to life. An extended dance sequence at the film’s start by the ‘mob’ amidst bouncing vehicles could not be topped elsewhere during the film.
There is no contest between any dance groups in this film. Nor are there any exotic locations in which the contest is to be held. The filmmakers opt for its own U.S. roots picking the scenic Miami as its location. The romance is always and again here between the lead dancers Emily (Kathryn McCormick) and Sean (Ryan Guzman) with the normal obstacle in the midst of the movie but with the couple (boringly) getting together again.
The filmmakers are fortunate to obtain the services of Peter Gallagher, the only known name actor in the cast. Gallagher plays Mr. Anderson, Emily’s father, a developer whose pursuits would undermine the neighbourhood roots of the community. His performance though not his greatest still manages to upstage those of the unknown young cast. One would assume that the main leads were hired based on their dancing skills or looks or both.
The story involves a Miami dance group who call themselves the mob. The leader, Sean wants the group to win sufficient hits on YouTube so that they can win money as well as exposure. So, the problem of the audience forced to watch too many dance groups compete is thankfully done away with. The result though is that the choreography is below par the other STEP UP films, though the props and fixtures are impressive.
A subplot involving the girl’s wealthy father’s business plans to develop the mob’s historic neighbourhood supposedly displacing thousands of people seems superfluous as well as the tacked on happy ending in which Mr. Anderson has a change of heart.
Despite all efforts made to differentiate STEP UP REVOLTION from being another STEP UP genre movie, the film still remains bogged down by the clichéd romance and silly plot devices.
THE WATCH (USA 2012) *
Directed by Akiva Schaffer
Last year, a low budget British movie ATTACK THE BLOCK about hoodies saving their South London project from aliens astounded critics and audiences alike. In this similar themed Hollywood copy of a neighbourhood watch protecting their wealthy suburban estate, the film falls horribly flat.
It all starts when the security guy at the local Costco gets zapped by an alien. The Costco manager, Evan (Ben Stiller) organizes a neighbourhood watch though only a few volunteers (Jonah Hill, Vince Vaughn and Richard Ayoade) show up and for different reasons.
They eventually stumble across the alien’s nest and are aided by one of their kind. The hundreds of aliens are destroyed in the end. How? By an alien weapon the watch happened to have stumbled across in the woods. And why would one of their kind help mankind? Exactly! The story makes no sense and bits are just added to the script to move the story along. It is pathetic the way the script is made up with the audience led to believe any silly thing. A subplot involved Evan’s infertility has no place in a story about aliens.
One can tell that the film is running into trouble when the actors get over the material – not that this material is not difficult to get over. There is too much ensemble acting, and this is allowed to go for far too long. The prime example is Jonah Hill’s tormenting of a teen at the police station the watch happens to catch. “Listen to me and look at him. No, listen to him and look at me.” And it goes on and on as if the lines are the most hilarious ever.
The least the filmmakers could do was to copy ATTACK THE BLOCK, the little seen British gem. It is a complete shame that the film with a script with credits by Seth Rogen and with a talented cast that includes the likes of Jonah Hill and Ben Stiller could emerge as such a sorry excuse of a comedy. THE WATCH is unfunny with an implausible plot and poorly paced with unrealistic situations and silly characters. The film is all over the place. It is best to rent ATTACK THE BLOCK again to see what went right in that movie and what has gone wrong in THE WATCH. To make things worse, the title of the movie was originally changed from THE NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH to just THE WATCH due to a recent incident involving the death of a neighbourhood watch member in the States. In the movie, the group is always referred to as the Neighbourhood Watch with their uniforms also containing the three words. It is obvious the title of the film has been changed and it could not be worse timing.
BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:
Best Film Opening: Killer Joe
Best Film Playing: The Amazing Spider-Man
Best Action: The Amazing Spider-Man
Best Drama: Savages
Best Foreign: The Intouchables (France)
Best Comedy: The Dictator
Best Family: Brave
Best Documentary: First Position