Review: The Magicians (2010)

The Magicians is a family film that works on a few levels in terms of the stories it tells and also in terms of the tones it is setting.

The Magicians concerns itself with a boy Ben (Thor Braun) who sees a magic show by the famous Hans Smid (Daan Schuurmans) and wants to learn magic. Seeing it as a good opportunity to bond with his son, Ben’s father, Koos (Theo Massen) agrees to learn with him and they form a team. His friend Sylvie (Java Siegertsz) acts as their lovely assistant. Everything changes for all involved when in the debut of their new disappearing trick, she really disappears.

One common pitfall of the family film this title manages to escape is that it manages to have humor and drama working in symmetry most of the time keeping the mood fairly light without diminishing the stakes. It doesn’t veer too far off course into overriding emotion or the another and doesn’t bludgeon you over the head with its messages them but rather incorporates them nicely into the action. The film also has a logical but unexpected turn of events that leads it towards its climactic sequence enjoyably.

The Magicians (2010, Attraction Distribution)

Another common pitfall of the family film is the buffoonish father trope, which can at times be too cartoony. The performance by Maasen in tandem with the writing make Koos and endearing and lovable sort despite his very apparent and numerous quirks. Also noteworthy here is the seemingly one-note, prototype of the too-cool older sister (Chantal Janzen) does have some unexpected and well-delivered variation in her arc also. Rounding out the cast are the winning Thor Braun equal parts convincingly awkward and convincing screen presence, and Schuurmans with a deliciously hammy supporting turn.

Most family films would only be tasked with resolving the concerns of one family unit. The Magicians decides to take the task of trying to sort out two family situations. There is also the ongoing struggle Sylvie faces in her house with her father living overseas and her mother being detached leaving her mostly to the care of an Au Pair. This dual purpose is most refreshing and combine that with the unusual-though-not-unprecedented disappearing foible it keeps you engaged.

The Magicians is well-edited and paced. It tells its story briskly, in a manner lacking pretension but conversely it’s not devoid of content. The whole family can enjoy, laugh, and learn from this film.

7/10

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Mini-Review: Berberian Sound Studio

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Berberian Sound Studio

I can’t say that there’s not a spark of creativity and ingenuity in the concept of this film and with some of the shots. There is a metamorphosis, however, it’s one you have to wait for and sit through many of the same kinds of scenes over and over again. In fact, I’m surprised I even saw it because I had quite nearly given up on the film. Even granting it that, after so much ennui, that payoff, too, failed, and angered me. It’s a film that quite honestly barely ever progresses past its initial concept, and when it does, does too little with it.

3/10

Mini-Review: Amour

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Amour

It’s funny, weird not ha-ha, how certain topics make themselves known during given cinematic years. I already had Amour on My Radar even before that was an official post on this site. However, earlier this year I saw another film that dealt with the topics of terminal illness and euthanasia, Time of My Life. That film was slightly more up my alley because of how it was handled.

This being a Haneke film I knew it would be handled differently in tone. That’s fine. While this film is quite good: especially in terms of the triad of Trintignant, Riva and Huppert; there’s a certain cessation of the pre-established flow late in the third act. It’s not as if the scene in question (which I’ll not describe here) didn’t work logically, it was an editorial choice that was dubious to say the least in terms of pacing and emotional impact that really hurt the overall effect.

7/10

Review: May Allah Bless France

May Allah Bless France is a work of ultimate auteur filmmaking, not unliked The Perks of Being a Wallflower, inasmuch as the film is not only written and directed by the same man, Abd Al Malik, but he is also the author of the novel upon which the film is based. This immediacy instantly gives the film a decided edge over your standard rise-to-fame biopic.

The specifics of this story are how Régis (Marc Zinga) rises out of his underprivliged circumstances with the support of family, education and rap. Unwilling to be a simplistic chronicle it also balances the subplots of his adoption of the Islamic faith, his relationship with his girlfriend (Sabrina Ouazani), and losses along the way where he must choose definitively the course his life will take.

Special commendation is earned by this film for the manner in which it it discusses Islam, and its perception, as well as engaging in some debate among the faithful about how to best practice their religion, a struggle with dogmatism – while also not holding back the forward momentum of the plot.

May Alla Bless France (2014, Strand Releasing)

The film is certainly carried with impressive, charasmatic and effective ease by Marc Zinga who embodies his character so well I wasn’t so sure he wasn’t the auteur. That fact, and the decision to make the film black-and-white, along with some other plot elements do make the case for this film being a modernized spin on Truffaut’s The 400 Blows.

It doesn’t reach that height because the film is more consistent, taut, and engaging; in this film its montages accompanied by the freestyle and polished versions of rap songs, performed excellently by Zinga. One song (“Tin Soldier”) is quite and earworm, and all of them have serious content to them. This frequency of music toward the end of the film means it finishes quite strong after being inconstent in its first two-thirds.

When this film was finished I was left with a smile on my face and quite moved by how it closes. In this story you have a protagonist who comes to the early realizaion that generally speaking he, like other African emigrés, are not wanted in France, yet they still love their country. Most importantly Malik doesn’t allow his sense of ostracism to define him but rather it forms the core of his motivation to succeed. The uplifting message of hope, change and perseverance is truly universal and this is a film many should see.

7/10

Mini-Review: Detention

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Detention

To accentuate the positive first, I cannot, nor can anyone in all likelihood, accuse Detention of being unoriginal or predictable. One of its few perks is that it does not ever make it obvious where it’s going next, and in its own insane way does manage to link everything together in the end. However, the film seems to think it’s a lot more clever and funny than I find it to be. It’s part (sub)genre-hopping horror/sci-fi and mostly comedy but the comedy portion is very forced, nearly all of it. Few and far between are the jokes that work for me and rarely did jokes strike me as genuine reflections of character. Instead the characters always seem to be in a state of limbo between being a stand-in for a horror archetype and a human vessel for a punchline.

I can see how the film has produced divisive reactions, and I always prefer a film that strives for divisiveness. When all is said and done, attempting to please everyone creates tepid cinema. Truly universal stories, at their core, come from a very personal place – so, I can easily see how this might be someone else’s cup of tea, but it’s not mine.

2/10

Mini-Review: Clandestine Childhood

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Clandestine Childhood

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, for I mentioned this when I reviewed Teddy Bear, not only do I truly enjoy the fact that Film Movement pairs a short film with its feature, but whenever possible it’s by the same director, and on occasion the short that inspired the feature. Here that is the case and it’s interesting inasmuch as the short serves as a springboard to the feature rather than just being expounded upon. The film is very well-shot with creative use of color and effective lighting throughout. It illuminates the oppressive atmosphere rebels in Argentina faced living under the regime of the late-’70s/early ’80s with human characters, humor and sensitivity. It’s not a wonder that Avila’s first feature earned him a spot at the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes.

8/10

Rewind Review: Frozen (2010)

Introduction

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Frozen (2010)

Frozen is a suspense/horror film which speculates on what may happen if three twenty-something friends were caught on a ski lift overnight. Despite playing to favorable and classically hyperbolic reactions at Sundance this film, despite its promise, is deeply flawed. There are spoilers herein.
The three protagonists Parker (Emma Bell), Joe (Shawn Ashmore) and Dan (Kevin Zegers) are well set up in the beginning portion of this film, however, that beginning is too protracted and talky especially considering the plot and the nature of it.

The concept of the film is not the film’s downfall. The fact that these three get caught on the ski lift overnight is, in fact, a good concept which is not fully explored and those parts which are explored aren’t very well executed. One means for escape is never attempted and the first attempted was bound to fail based on how it was done. Joe jumps from the lift, abandons his snowboard but still tries to land on his feet, which was bound to break his legs.

Considering the film is called Frozen, the most the characters ever suffer is low-grade frostbite and not hypothermia as you might expect and furthermore the deaths are not due to the elements but wolf attacks. This acts sort of as the opposite of a deus ex machina, wherein the characters’ destruction is brought about by a seemingly divine, or demonic, plot element randomly thrown into the mix.

So far as the cast is concerned the expression “two out of three ain’t bad” comes to mind. Emma Bell seems to be trying too hard in this part and goes over-the-top in her more emotional scenes. Kevin Zegers isn’t there very long but is serviceable when he is there leaving the standout and ‘the glue’ as Shawn Ashmore who did quite well but even his best efforts can’t keep this thing together.

After being trapped conversations the characters are engaged in are far too distracted from the situation to be believable. They seemingly forget the very real situation they are in for much too long. Breaking some of the backstory – filling up with quiet or renewed panic would’ve been better.

The characters in this story were placed in a situation with really only three outs and they only tried two. They could’ve been put in a slightly more advantageous situation. Despite the claustrophobia and occasional tension the film does build it is all torn down by the missteps along the way.

Despite a well-intentioned effort at a different kind of suspense tale Frozen is tepid at best.

4/10

Short Film Saturday: Peter and the Wolf (1958)

No this is not the version that is wholly animated by Disney, that I previously discussed. Nor is this the live-action/animation blend with a contribution from Chuck Jones. This is a 1958 Soviet produced stop-motion animation version. The narration and intermittent dialogue is not subtitled. However, the Wikipedia blurb on the film should help delineate the variations between this version and the traditional. Aside from length:

The Russian animation studio Soyuzmultfilm produced a version of the work in 1958. It is puppet stop motion animation, directed by Anatoly Karanovich and narrated by I. Medvedyeva. This version makes the following changes to the story:

-In the beginning the bird sees the wolf in the forest and warns Peter’s grandfather, who goes to get the hunters and tells Peter not to leave the fenced-in yard.
– The cat, after failing to catch the bird and duck, goes to the forest to solicit the help of the wolf.
-Peter picks up the duck and runs to safety, leaving the cat outside with the wolf.
-The wolf, not being very particular, eats the cat.

Enjoy!

Review: Finding Neighbors

In the cinematic equivalent of word association, the first movie that Finding Neighbors reminded me of is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which in many regards this film is the antithesis of. The reason this comes to mind is because of the obvious, occasional attempts at blending the graphic novel form, and some animation, with conventional live-action film this film makes. However, while Pilgrim’s video game/graphic novel-inspired flashes are necessary world-building here the artwork stands in lieu of montage, and as a sort of white elephant as the Flesh Fair barker in A.I. put it (“originality without purpose”). And even that very originality is dubious when you get beyond the fenestration to the narrative and the personages below.

The film’s presumed need for such affectation can be found in its synopsis. It centers itself around Sam Tucker’s (Michael O’Keefe) creative and mid-life crisis and his inability to connect with or even really talk to his wife, Mary (Catherine Dent). The flashpoint, such as it is, for the film is his now six-months overdue latest graphic novel. A lateness that has his publisher contacting their counsel and his agent having a conniption.

The film’s dealing with Sam’s mid-life crisis occurs mostly through his lack of forthcoming with issues and concerns that come up in his personal and work-life. This is an idea easy to identify with but issue is rendering it such that it’s interesting to watch. The built-in formula becomes quite tiresome. One entire subplot, that of his vixen neighbor Sherrie (Julie Mond), while necessary for the character is quite strange in its only slightly ascending stakes, and oddly disproportionate amount of screentime allotted to it. Much better realized is the main subplot, his burgeoning friendship with Jeff (Blake Bashoff).

Finding Neighbors (2014, Strand Releasing)

It is in these scenes, and the climactic fights, and discussions, that O’Keefe is at his best, but Bashoff ultimately is the highlight of the film. While there are some smiles, and comfort to be found in the resolution this film finds it’s a bit predictable also.

Finding Neighbors is a fitting title because it’s in getting to know others that Sam really starts to examine his life, relationship, art, and struggles as he opens himself to let others in. In that the arc works well to building the bridge that will allow the eventually reconciliation and repentance for past omissions of emotion and attention. However, the road to get to that final destination is ultimately not one worth traveling.

4/10

Finding Neighbors is available on DVD and digital platforms.

Mini-Review: Shorts (2010)

Introduction

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, regardless enjoy!

Shorts (2010)

Robert Rodriguez’s latest film Shorts is very good family fare. Rodriguez since the late-’90s has been a director who goes back and forth between action films like the El Mariachi series, which are generally more popular, and family films like Spy Kids, The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl and Shorts.

What is most interesting about this particular title is the way it’s structured. It uses a lot of voice over – which is a risky proposition, but it is well done and Jimmy Bennett narrates the tale with as much energy and zest as if he was onscreen. Rodriguez also employs a narrator who is not the greatest storyteller allowing him to play with structure and tells the story out of chronological order. There is also some fun had with video as the narrator stops, pauses, fast forwards and rewinds footage as needed.

It would make an interesting editing experiment for film schools to piece it together chronologically. This lack of sequence when combined with this particular story does cause some major pace issues in the second half of the movie. It is always enjoyable but just can’t compare to the breakneck speed of the first half. A similar movie in structure is The Sasquatch Gang but the story is low concept as opposed to high so pace suffers less.

Ultimately it is still a creative, inventive and fun film. In episode 0, before the credits, Rodriguez hearkens back to his great student film Bedhead and kept the same verve and pizzazz throughout. Shorts is a film that is always trying something new. You might not always like it, but at least it tries – and I simply have to like any movie with a booger monster in it.

6/10