Films in Brief: 4/18/14

It’s been a busy week with all of us gearing up for our massive Hot Docs coverage, but here’s a look at what else is playing on local screens this week that we haven’t gotten around to reviewing yet!

 Disneynature's BEARS

Bears

With Earth Day also falling on this long holiday weekend, it’s time for another Disneynature documentary, and although Bears is largely indistinguishable from most nature docs of this kind, it’s still a fine way to educate kids about these majestic, endangered, and sometimes dangerous creatures.

Predominantly following around a mama bear named Sky and her two cubs as they roam the potentially dangerous wilds of Alaska, Bears certainly lives up to its simple title. Nicely observational (and without sheltering kids from the fact that bears are nature’s greatest hunters), well paced, and giving the film a kind of made up human narrative to make things relatable, Bears is a welcome addition to Disney’s now traditional April documentary drop. Some warm and occasionally humorous narration from John C. Reilly should keep adults who already think they know everything is there is to know about bears interested.

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Be sure to stick around through the credits for a real appreciation of the gorgeous cinematography on display.

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The Face of Love

The latest in a plethora of doppelganger films slated to come out this year, Face of Love never rises above the kind of material one would find in the remainder bin at a big box bookstore: a romantic fable that thinks it has something interesting to say, but really just has enough conviction to convey clichés adequately.

After the tragic death of her husband during a 30th anniversary getaway, Nikki (Annette Bening) begins to date an artist and teacher named Tom (Ed Harris) who looks sounds and feels exactly the same way that her husband did.

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This is the kind of film that feels like the result of Canadian writer/director Arie Posin (The Chumscrubber) and co-writer Matthew McDuffie (A Cool Dry Place) simply watched Vertigo and decided to do a gender swap and try to appeal to the older aged Nicholas Sparks crowd. There’s a really great psychological drama waiting to come out – hinted at by great work from Harris and Bening, who can still command leading roles in great ways – but it wallows in schmaltz and sentimentality, often to the detriment of the vastly more interesting questioning of Nikki’s sanity. It’s all face value stuff and very little subtext. It also wastes the considerable talents of Amy Brenneman and Robin Williams in thanklessly friendly supporting roles that gives them nothing to work with.

Hold Fast

Hold Fast

The Canadian coming of age drama Hold Fast belongs to a subgenre of teen films I thought was long since dead, but I’m glad to see making a minor comeback here: the kids on the run flick (Josh and S.A.M., The Cure, etc.).

Following the death of his parents in a car accident, young rural Newfoundlander Michael (Avery Ash) is forced into living with his aunt (Molly Parker) and her verbally abusive and cold husband (Aiden Flynn). Fed up with being bullied at school and at home, Michael convinces his shy and introverted cousin Curtis (Douglas Sullivan) to run away with him to prove a point and to hopefully return to Michael’s kindly grandfather (Des Walsh).

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There are a lot of points when Rosemary House’s script and Justin Simms’ direction seem to be spinning their wheels with some sequences going on way longer than they need to, and a really underdeveloped romantic relationship between Michael and a classmate feels like an afterthought. Still, this is a pretty charming movie with exceptional performances from newcomers Ash and Sullivan. It hits all the beats most of these road dramas do (surviving in the wild, stealing a car, overcoming fears, learning lessons about understanding people’s faults), but there’s a natural kind of unforced camaraderie and good natured gumption that makes it work. Also, it’s so gorgeously filmed that it’s amazing no one has made one of these films in the Maritimes before now.

Meetings with a Young Poet

Meetings with a Young Poet

It gets off to a pretty rocky and pretentious start, but eventually this look at a young writer (Vincent Hoss-Desmarais) and his enduring friendship with famed writer Samuel Beckett (an excellent Stephen McHattie) finds its footing with crackling dialogues about the creative process and friendship between creative types.

It’s just a shame that Rudy Barichello’s film can’t sustain that good will. With an overarching plot revolving around an actress trying to get the rights to Beckett’s deeply personal Krapp’s Last Tape from the titular current estate holder feeling out of place and sometimes annoying, the film should have just stuck to having Beckett and his charge sitting around a table playing drunken rounds of chess and hanging out with their favourite cafe barkeep. That stuff is charming and true to Beckett. The rest, not so much.

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Stress Position

Stress Position

A psychological thriller masked as a mockumentary, A.J. Bond’s Stress Position has a killer hook and some great ideas but no real satisfying way to pull it all off.

Bond (playing himself) makes a bet with his actor buddy David Amito that he can’t last a week under Guantanamo Bay styled psychological horror. The experiment is supposed to end if and when David gives up the password for a $10,000 INTERAC money transfer or when David has proven at the end of seven days that he could survive by internalizing all of the pain. The rules are simple : no physical pain and nothing illegal. But after a while it becomes clear that Bond wants something more profound than Amito’s money.

Bond creates an interesting visual and auditory presentation, looking and sounding at times like a demented cross between 1970s Doctor Who and Silent Hill. Also interesting are the character’s strange neurosis, especially Bond’s frustrated Kubrickian auterism and Amito’s closeted and constantly exploited homophobia. The torture is also appropriately squirm-worthy, including humiliation, psychological assaults on the senses, and eventually some truly disgusting acts of depravity.

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What makes Stress Position collapse is that it can’t seem to follow its own logic despite the constant need to tell the audience that there is some method to Bond’s on screen madness. It extends to having a character that’s literally just there to tell Bond he’s gone too far without ever really trying to stop him before things get out of control. It drags the film down and becomes a lot more head scratching as it hurtles towards an intriguing twist that feels more like a means to an end, but still doesn’t really make up for any of the narrative’s faults.

Afternoon of a Faun Tanaquil Le Clercq

Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq

This week’s only new release at The Bloor is an okay primer on one of the greatest ballet dancers that ever lived. A muse to Jerome Robbins and the wife of famed choreographer George Blanchine, Tanny Le Clercq defied what ballerinas should be (she was tall, kind of slow, and long legged) to become one of the best dancers of her age before tragically becoming stricken with polio. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the film (which includes plenty of archival footage, readings of personal correspondences courtesy of Michael Stuhlbarg and Marianne Bower, and interviews with those who knew her best), but the appeal of this one is strictly for those with a vested interest in ballet history or those who want to learn how to read dance on an academic level. It’s okay.

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