Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 12, 2013

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nancy Snipper
Farzana Hassan
Daniel Charchuk
Samuel Burd
Andrée Lafontaine
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Emanuel Pordes
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Film Reviews
  Bowling for Columbine
Shanghai Ghetto
Talk to Her
City of God
Magdalene Sisters
Dirty Pretty Things
Barbarian Invasions
Fog of War
Blind Shaft
The Corporation
Station Agent
The Agronomist
Maria Full of Grace
Man Without a Past
In This World
Buffalo Boy
Shake Hands with the Devil
Born into Brothels
The Edukators
Big Sugar
A Long Walk
An Inconvenient Truth
Sisters In Law
Send a Bullet
Banking on Heaven
Chinese Botanist's Daugher
Ben X
La Zona
The Legacy
Irina Palm
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Poor Boys Game
Finn's Girl
Leaving the Fold
The Mourning Forest
Beneath the Rooftops of Paris
Before Tomorrow
Paraiso Travel
Necessities of Life
For a Moment of Freedom
Blood River
By the Will of Genghis Kahn
The Concert
Weaving Girl
Into Eternity
When We Leave



Listing + Ratings of films from festivals, art houses, indie





2.5 or more for a noteworthy film
3.5 for an exceptional film
4 for a classic.


[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Writer/director Stiller also headlines this remake of the 1947 comedy of the same name, itself based upon a 1939 short story. Though Stiller is known for his comedic roles, here he turns the story away from the satirical elements of the previous adaptation in favour of something warmer and more life-affirming, playing a meek office drone forced by circumstance to embark upon a globe-trotting adventure – something he had previously only daydreamed about. The unyieldingly upbeat mood definitely has the potential to turn off a fair few, but the genuine, non-judgmental tone – as well as the incredible vistas of Greenland, Iceland, and the Himalayas – is so powerful that it has the capability to melt the heart of even the most cynical critic. And although the movie’s moral is barely more complex than ‘live your life to the fullest’, somehow Stiller’s sincere approach just works, making his film into something much more than just a positive message.

4.0-- DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, Melisa Wallack
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A gritty biopic on the equally gritty man, Ron Woodroof, an AIDS sufferer. The film tracks his steel-like determination to give away -- via smuggling from various countries which he personally travels -- the best non-toxic cocktail of vitamins and more, including Interferon that proves to stop the virus from accelerating so rapidly, while prolonging a life to be lived in comfort. Matthew McCaughney was devastatingly brilliant in the role. This movie shows the evil collusion of the FDA with drug companies, even though there is a better immediate remedy for AIDS patients that would obliterate many of the drug companies producing AZT. On the way, Ron tries to expose this fact. He opens up his office to help other victims with the help of a transvestite named Rayon (Jared Leto), who becomes his invaluable assistant and friend. She has AIDS, too. When Ron discovers that AZT is in fact killing AIDS patients -- he learns this first-hand, this is where the bull-riding cowboy really digs in his heels. He risks all to get at minimum cost non-chemical meds that are non-toxic, along with Interferon to replace AZT. Ron Woodroof was a hero -- driven to help himself and all who suffer from AIDS. McCaughney and Leto make an extraordinary acting team.

2.2 -- DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, Jean-Marc Vallée
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The AIDS crisis of the 1980s is depicted with unflinching realism in this by-the-numbers biopic of Ron Woodruff, a homophobic Texan cowboy fond of unprotected sex and intravenous drugs. When diagnosed with HIV in 1985, though, he becomes a crusader for gay men and transsexuals alike, creating a ‘buyers club’ of unapproved drugs and untested remedies to combat the fatal illness, subsequently putting him at odds with doctors, pharmaceutical companies and the FDA. Matthew McConaughey, continuing his career renaissance, lost 50 lbs. to play the gaunt Woodruff, and Jared Leto, in his first film in six years, adopts a similar look to play Rayon, a transgender woman and fellow AIDS patient who becomes Woodruff’s partner; apart from these two impressive performances, however, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about this work, as it portends to be little more than one (white, straight) man’s experience with the disease. Twenty years after Philadelphia broke down walls and transgressed borders with its depiction of an HIV-infected gay man, it’s somewhat disheartening to see how little we’ve accomplished.

1.6 -- ENDER’S GAME, Gavin Hood
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Orson Scott Card’s worldwide sci-fi bestseller finally makes it to the big screen, nearly 30 years after its original publication. Set in a futuristic world ravaged by an alien invasion, it concerns a young boy – the titular Ender, played by Asa Butterfield of Hugo fame – raised in a militaristic boarding school in order to potentially lead an armed force to repel any future attacks. Essentially structured as a series of progressively more complex war games, it’s a shockingly low-stakes tale, restricted by its virtual reality settings and lack of any real danger. Acting vets Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley (in a Maori full-face tattoo) occasionally show up to alternately discourage and mentor Ender, but this is primarily a kid’s story, and Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), and others are more than capable of carrying the load. However, there’s not much to carry, as what little narrative drama exists is quickly dismissed before it can even register, and the climax – such as it is – is so uninvolving as to be regarded as inert. Even worse: the cliffhanger ending leading into the obligatory sequel, completely unearned and brazen; not nearly enough has happened for it to even be frustrating – it’s merely meaningless.

1.1 -- GRUDGE MATCH, Peter Segal
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Former onscreen boxers Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone square off in this juvenile sports comedy, with the pair playing long-time pugilistic rivals who are convinced, in the twilight of their lives, to fight once more for bragging rights. Though director Segal admittedly stretches this one-joke premise as far as it will go, there’s still not a lot to like about this rather lame comedy, as neither a bored Stallone nor an overblown De Niro seem very interested in putting forth a serious effort. Supporting players Kim Basinger, Alan Arkin and Kevin Hart contribute pathos and humour in equal doses, but the ruggedly manly duo at the film’s core keep the tone stubbornly dry; the two underdog sports stories thus intertwine with predictable results, leading toward a depressingly rote climax. It’s all fine and well to make jokes about two old guys boxing, but once you get them in the ring, the laughter is silenced as you watch two senior citizens pummel each other, knowing that one is going to lose. After all, there can only be one underdog in any given fight.

3.7 -- INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, Joel & Ethan Coen
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Following the immense critical and commercial success of "True Grit," and in keeping with their recent trend of alternating high-profile projects with more intimate works, the Coen brothers dial things back a bit for this one, a brief tour through the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s. Of course, even small Coen films are big deals these days, and with a cast including Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman, and soundtrack contributions by Marcus Mumford (of the eponymous folk-rock band), this one is no different. However, the actual narrative – a week in the life of the struggling titular singer (poised breakout star Oscar Isaac) – is typical Coen brilliance, forgoing catharsis and empathy in favour of misery and indifference. In many ways, it’s the Ulysses to O Brother, Where Art Thou?’s Odyssey, a smaller-scale urban voyage that nonetheless tackles similar themes of hardship, regret, and loss, all while putting its suffering protagonist through the wringer of life as a starving artist. It’s probably most akin to "A Serious Man" amongst the Coens’ oeuvre in that sense, and both films are likewise genius in their abstraction.

[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The middle section of director Jackson’s drawn-out adaptation of the precursor to "The Lord of the Rings," the film is predictably afflicted with middle-child syndrome, lacking both a true beginning and a satisfying end. Unlike "The Two Towers," which at least had the divided structure of its source material to guide its narrative, there is no easy story location from which to start or finish this middle chapter – owing to the inherent issues in stretching out a single volume to three movies. Regardless, the film is a slight improvement over the frequently boring first installment, as Jackson’s strengths in both gross-out horror and slapstick comedy shine through early in a couple of terrific set-pieces – the spiders and the barrels. Still, the film suffers from the same problems as its predecessor – largely, a sense of superfluity to many of the scenes, leading to a lack of flow in the storyline – and by the time the overlong climax rolls around, even the amazingly realized titular dragon (terrifyingly voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) can’t prevent the film, and its abrupt cliffhanger ending, from feeling like anything other than dissatisfactory.

1.9 -- AMERICAN HUSTLE, David O. Russell
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Writer/director Russell, a recent critical darling for his films "The Fighter" and "Silver Linings Playbook," tackles relatively modern American history with this fictionalized retelling of the Abscam sting operation of the late ‘70s. Former Batman Christian Bale packs on the pounds and adopts an elaborate comb-over to play the lead role of Irving Rosenfeld, a Bronx con man who, along with his sexy mistress and partner (Amy Adams), is forced by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to participate in an entrapment scheme for to ensnare various politicians. The pedigree is obviously there for a great work, but Russell’s style is so indebted to that of Martin Scorsese – specifically his ‘70s-set pictures "Goodfellas" and "Casino" – that he fails to maintain a coherent tone throughout the film. As such, the performances from his game cast range from downright wooden (Adams) to hilariously over-the-top (Jennifer Lawrence, as Irving’s unpredictable wife), reflecting the film’s oscillation between wild comedy and somber drama. It’s a madcap work, more interested in strange characters and bizarre situations than a comprehensible narrative; while that may work on occasion, Russell simply doesn’t have the filmmaking chops to pull it off.

2.4 -- SAVING MR. BANKS, John Lee Hancock
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The complicated backstory of the classic film "Mary Poppins" is lovingly told in this Disney-fied drama, essentially intended as a love letter from the Mouse House to itself and its godlike creator Walt – played here by fellow American icon Tom Hanks. Emma Thompson headlines, however, as prickly British author P.L. Travers, who refuses to sell the movie rights to her famed novel for fear of Disney turning it into one of their famous cartoons. This early ‘60s Hollywood narrative is subsequently balanced by an early 20th century flashback of Travers growing up in rural Australia with an alcoholic father, which neatly provides the backstory for both the novel’s memorable characters and Travers’ standoffish demeanour. Of course, in the end, Walt gets his way, as a blanket whitewash of history shows Travers eventually coming around on the brilliance of the motion picture (in fact she hated the movie), actually tearing up at the titular salvation of Mr. Banks at the film’s end. Much like "Mary Poppins" itself is a fanciful reimagining of Travers’ personal history, so too is this film a happy rewriting of cinematic lore.

[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The long-awaited, much-anticipated sequel to the 2004 newsroom comedy-turned-cult classic finally arrives, with Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and David Koechner reprising their roles as the moronic Channel 4 News Team. This time, the team is relocated from 1970s San Diego to 1980 New York City to become part of the first 24-hour news channel in history; however, as in the first one, the plot is merely a loose structure on which to hang a series of increasingly random skits and non-sequiturs. Despite a few inspired moments of social commentary, mostly relating to notions of modern cable news, the film is largely a collection of sketches and tangents – some much more funny than others – all leading up to a cameo-laden climax that aims to top the original’s infamous news-team, parking-lot showdown. Though the sheer quantity and quality of famous people present clearly outrank the relatively modest assemblage of the first one, there is nonetheless something miss comically; it’s almost as if, in their desire to cater to overgrown expectations, the filmmakers simply tried too hard.

4.0 -- THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, Martin Scorsese
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A nearly three-hour tale of sex, drugs and capitalism run amok is perfectly captured in this adaptation of former stockbroker (and current motivational speaker) Jordan Belfort’s autobiography. Director Scorsese reteams with his favourite 21st century collaborator for the story of greed and excess, which seems a natural thematic follow-up to his ‘90s favourites "Goodfellas" and "Casino": all three are linked by their ostensible true-story qualifiers and cast of depraved characters, but Wolf differentiates itself through its sheer exaltation and lack of any real cathartic conclusion. Unlike Henry Hill and Ace Rothstein, Belfort is never truly punished for his financial crimes and moral transgressions (save for a brief stint in a country-club prison), and thus Scorsese seems to be making a point about the relative evil of Wall Street crooks vs. mob bosses and mafia wiseguys. This is the new organized crime, but these offenders get off (mostly) scot-free: a damning indictment.

3.3 -- NEBRASKA, Alexander Payne
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Director Payne returns to his home state to helm this melancholy ode to Middle America, focusing on elderly Woody Grant (a wild-haired Bruce Dern) who becomes convinced that he’s won a million dollar sweepstakes; insistent on traveling to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his (scam) prize, he forces his middle-aged son (Will Forte in a rare dramatic role) to accompany him. Shot in low-grade digital black & white, this is not a beautiful film, emphasizing the rundown, depressing quality of small town U.S.A., even as it ostensibly highlights the enduring optimism of the human spirit. Payne mostly remains non-judgmental throughout, even as he depicts middle-class idiocy with hilarious deadpan; in this sense, it’s a refreshing change of pace from the insufferably didactic and obvious "The Descendants," with its obnoxious voiceover and smug tone. Despite the clear awfulness of the people and places that Woody encounters, he never lowers himself to their level, instead staying focused on his goal, staring straight ahead; Payne’s directorial approach, thankfully, is much the same.

3.3 -- PHILOMENA, Stephen Frears
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Director Frears adapts former BBC journalist Martin Sexsmith’s non-fiction book "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee," chronicling an Irish woman’s search for the child she was forced to give up for adoption 50 years prior. Starring Dame Judi Dench as the titular, real-life woman and funnyman Steve Coogan as Sexsmith himself, the result is satisfying cathartic crowd-pleaser that nonetheless asks important, non-judgmental questions about religion, forgiveness and blind faith. Dench and Coogan have terrific chemistry and play off each other well, and much of the film’s simple pleasures are derived from Sexsmith’s snarky one-timers juxtaposed with Philomena’s naïve optimism. But Frears is not afraid to tackle touchy subjects, ranging from the Catholic Church’s sale of children to American adopters to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, and he does it all with little fanfare and even less controversy. Though clearly designed as Oscar bait, it’s far more accomplished and complicated than many of its ilk, even its casually satisfying ending is perhaps a bit too easily earned.

[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A spinoff from, rather than a direct sequel to, the dirt-cheap, insanely profitable found-footage horror franchise, this installment forgoes the static surveillance footage and upper-middle-class McMansions of its predecessors in favour of gritty, handheld camerawork and a working-class apartment complex – a formal decision owing, at least partially, to the film being gearing toward the Latino market. Hewing therefore closer to other, more conventional films of the sub-genre, it seems to lack the deliberate patience and attention to detail that distinguishes this series, even as it continues the deepening and darkening of the complex mythology, adding magical superpowers and mystical time portals to the already-bizarre mix of possessed children, demonology and witch covens. Still, the scares and set-pieces remain grimly effective, although the shaky-cam does much to soften their blow; gone is the slow buildup and truly earned frights of the earlier films, replaced by jump scares and quick blows. If nothing else, it’s a sign that all things must regress to the mean, and that even this Latino-targeted edition is not immune from white-bread tastes.

1.4 -- AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, John Wells
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A veritable who’s who of Oscar winners and heavy-hitters populate the cast of this stage adaptation, led by the twin female titans of modern American acting: Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. Scripted by Tracy Letts from his stage play and directed, simply and ably, by TV veteran Wells, it is an unsurprisingly theatrical affair, chronicling a few days in the life of a dysfunctional, volatile family in rural Oklahoma. Weighty topics and themes abound, ranging from simple concerns of life and death to more disturbing content such as adultery, incest, and pedophilia; however, all are covered with the same melodramatic and histrionic tone. Nearly every performer is given the opportunity to overact and, as trained thespians, they are more than willing – perhaps none more than Streep, who ages herself quite a bit to play the nasty, domineering matriarch Violet, verbally attacking her three daughters and swilling back handfuls of pills. It’s undoubtedly a showy, exaggerated performance, suiting the demands of the story, and yet it feels entirely too big for the screen, as if the sheer monstrosity of her character can only be played on stage, not captured on film.

4.0 -- AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, John Wells
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] An incredible tour de force drama created by the star-studded cast. Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and more familiar faces who make up this excruciatingly abusive family which is led by man-hating matriarch meanie, Violet (Streep) who happens to have mouth cancer -- but she continues to chain smoke. Streep masterfully plays a drug-taking terrifically horrid mother whose acerbic tongue lashes out at every moment. This family has secrets and when they come out, all hell breaks loose. Each of the three daughters joins in their parents' train wreck as their own tattered lives leave each of them derailed on a lonely track. They come together at the beginning of the film, meeting up in their mother's hot and humid home in Osage County, situated in one of Oklahoma's vast plains. They are going to go to their father's funeral, and this is where the film's drama unfolds. Much in the line of playwright, Eugene O'Neil's: "Long Day's Journey into Night," the worst interaction of these foul-mouthed, nasty women takes place around the dinner table post-funeral. The dinner ends in an intense scene in which Barbara, the oldest of the three daughters (played by Roberts) and her mother get into an on-the-floor cat fight: Barbara is intent on wrestling mom's pills out of her rigid grip. Roberts plays anger very well, and Streep -- well - there are no words to describe her gut-wrenching gift. The plot is riveting as it covers every dark corner that aberrant people hide in, and in the case of this family -- they eventually expose themselves for all to see: incest, drug and alcohol addiction, adultery and divorce. Tthe entire two hours is a piece of movie magic that one rarely sees coming out of Hollywood.  

2.5 -- LONE SURVIVOR, Peter Berg
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Another ‘based-on-a-true-story’ modern war flick, this time telling the tale of four Navy SEALs pinned down in the harsh mountains of Afghanistan by Taliban forces, hopelessly outgunned and outnumbered. Though the potential is ripe for a “hoo-rah” jingoistic slice of patriotic fervor – and, indeed, the use of SEAL training footage over the opening credits seems to lean in the direction of military recruitment film – director Berg seems more interested in generic notions of honour, brotherhood, and sacrifice than any specifically nationalist or American themes. Like his previous works "Friday Night Lights," "The Kingdom," and "Battleship," Berg focuses on macho men doing manly things, and his four leads here – Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster – are all appropriately bearded and buff. The inevitable gunfight, following a drawn-out exposition and brief exploration of morality in war, is suitably intense and exciting, but the story’s real strength comes from its final act, in which an Afghani farmer, in clear defiance of the Taliban, saves Wahlberg’s titular protagonist. In a story full of purported heroes, this man is the one true thing.

3.4 -- HER, Spike Jonze
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Writer/director Jonze, well known for his bizarre music videos and off-beat romantic films (particularly his two collaborations with Charlie Kaufman, "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation"), presents this strangely affecting piece of science-fiction romance, set in a not-too-distant-future complete with accordingly advanced technology. Comeback king Joaquin Phoenix stars as Theodore Twombly, a lonely romantic who spends his days writing personal letters for other people, and who downloads a new, artificially intelligent operating system, only to full in love with its seductively purring voice (that of Scarlett Johansson). It’s obviously a peculiar sort of love story, yet one perfectly suited for our tech-crazed times, where people would rather interact with their phones than with each other. Although Jonze’s ideas about humanity’s relationship with technology locate the film firmly within the realm of sci-fi, his more dominant notions about our basic need for connectivity and affection identify the film primarily as a kind of tragic romance, albeit with its far share of laughs. Regardless, the creation of the futuristic world is top-notch, even if it feels more like window dressing for Jonze’s monologue-heavy script; too often, his film tells when it should simply show instead.

3.2 -- WHITEWASH, Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Something of a rarity – an English-language Quebecois film – this slow-burn thriller/character study is shot and set in the dense forests of the Laurentides during a tremendous blizzard. American character actor Thomas Haden Church, best known for his Oscar-nominated turn in "Sideways," stars as Bruce, an alcoholic snowplow driver who accidentally hits and kills a man during the aforementioned snowstorm. As Bruce heads for the woods to hide out, growing more despondent and desperate by the day, a series of flashbacks reveal what really happened between Bruce and his victim (played by Quebecois actor Marc Labrèche). First-time feature filmmaker Hoss-Desmarais, a former commercial director, masterfully captures the bleak and unforgiving frigidity of Canadian winters while simultaneously presenting a stark portrait of a man slowly unraveling, and Church, for his part, is terrific, utilizing every one of his acting tics to portray a man who finds his world crumbling around him. Though the film’s darkly comic tone recalls the work of the Coen Bros. (specifically "Fargo") and their offshoots, Hoss-Desmarais takes things to an even more bitterly cold degree, capping things off with a tone-perfect final line.

0.4 -- THE NUT JOB, Peter Lepeniotis
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Dredging up the bottom of the barrel of animation, Canadian director Lepeniotis’ first full-length feature (an adaptation of his 2005 short "Surely Squirrel") is predictably awful and unfunny, set in Manhattan during the bizarrely specific fall of 1959 and concerning a motley crew of wild animals collecting food for the coming winter. Aiming for similarly themed "Over the Hedge" seems even too high a mark, let alone other furry flicks "Ratatouille" and"Fantastic Mr. Fox"; the plot, as evidenced by the title, involves a nut heist, coincidentally occurring simultaneously with a film noir-esque bank robbery. It’s a curious thing, with a typical children’s film narrative laid right over top of the grown-up dramatic story it’s aping, but any ironic juxtaposition is overcome by the sheer atrocity of it all. Singular moments briefly interest, but are soon drowned out; likewise, adult themes of desperate survival and the evils of democracy are largely supplanted by generic platitudes of ‘heroism’ and ‘sharing’ – a not-so-subtle socialist message, for kids! While the recognizable celebrity voices of Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Brendan Fraser and Liam Neeson inhabit various woodland creatures, the most heinous use of pop culture in the film is the anachronistic use of “Gangnam Style”, a fad now two years out of date; a feeble attempt at topicality and relevance if ever there was one.

1.6 -- JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT, Kenneth Branagh
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The Cold War’s ostensibly been over and done with for more than two decades now, but that hasn’t stopped those pesky Russkies from making trouble for our favourite fictional action heroes in the intervening time. Following the unfortunate lead of last year’s Russia-set "A Good Day to Die Hard," this fifth installment in the adventures of the late Tom Clancy’s most celebrated spy (rebooted once again and now played by Captain Kirk himself, Chris Pine) travels to Moscow, but not before telling the topically tragic backstory of our fearless Dr. Ryan, shaken by 9/11 and shot down in Afghanistan. Indeed, such time is spent on this drawn-out introduction that the film’s proper narrative is chopped to ribbons and rushed to conclusion, even forgetting to truly establish director/co-star Branagh’s cartoonish villain, some kind of Russian banking miscreant. In fact, the plot’s focus on financial terrorism (mixed in with traditional acts of bombing) seems to retroactively blame the Former Soviet Union for the Wall Street crash, absolving heroic American financiers of their crimes. It’s somewhat reassuring to know that, after all these years, it’s still all Russia’s fault.

3.4 -- A TOUCH OF SIN, Jia Zhangke
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Four ‘ripped-from-the-headlines’ stories, narratively diverse yet thematically analogous, comprise the intricate narrative structure of director Jia’s dense commentary on China’s economic failings and violent tendencies. Each distinctive plot, set in a different geographic region of the country, follows an individual, beaten and battered by political corruption (sometimes quite literally), forcing them to turn to graphically savage ends as a kind of cathartic release for their anger and frustration. It is telling that director Jia, known for his much quieter and gentler works on similar topics, utilizes extreme violence and realistic gore for the first time in his career, as perhaps he, like his characters, has grown tired of the apathy and decay plaguing his nation and turned to cinematic bloodshed as a means of making his point. Whatever his reasons, it is clear that he has crafted a singular work of social commentary, thematically rich and viscerally exciting, that shocks and thrills even as it slowly infuriates. China, it seems, is hardly better off than the rest of us.

[reviewed by Samuel Burd] Intimations of mortality steadily accrue in “Le Grande Beaute,” a tale of la dolce vita that begins with an Asian tourist dropping dead in Rome. This bit of wish fulfillment for natives whose lives otherwise embody wishes aborted or half-realized leads us to the film’s eponymous Mastroianni figure, a one-time novelist and sometimes journalist of high culture who spends his afternoons haunting the Roman streets and his evenings partying with his fellow middle-aged and moderately depressed intellectual cohort, all the while pining for a lost love and remarking with bemusement the second novel he has failed for 30 years to convince himself to write. This pattern is thrown into question when he learns that his past love is dead and had loved him all along, triggering a buried sense of lost possibility and bringing intimations of approaching death to a boil, as one disturbed character kills himself and another dies of an undisclosed disease. All of this is conveyed in bright colors and swooping camera movements which suggest the clarity and liveliness with which the writer views a world that he cannot allow himself to channel into words. Yet it is the one exception to the parade of hues and eloquent, attractive middle-agers -- an ancient, silent, toothless nun -- that gives weight to those hints of mortality, arriving in the film’s final minutes, all papery skin and brittle bones, to say everything that the film and its writer-hero are too enamoured with stimulation to say about life, death, struggle and beauty.

3.8 -- LONE SURVIVOR, Peter Berg
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Based on a true, terrifying story of a navy SEAL band of four men who are on a mission to eradicate Shah, the Taliban leader of a high-level al-Qaeda operative living in a mountainous village in Afghanistan. The men seek high ground under tree cover in the rocky cliffs overlooking the village where Shah is spotted by them. However, things go wrong. Goats led by some Taliban herders stumble upon the group who is hiding out in the mountain. The band of brave heroes captures them and ties them up. A soft decision is made; it is based on doing no harm to unarmed enemies, so the SEALS do not kill them. Two from the group disagree and feel they should be shot. The men's kindness sounded their death knoll. Of course, they are found out, discovered, outnumbered and slaughtered as they receive riddles of machine gun holes in their bodies. All eventually succumb except one -- Marcus Luttrell (real author of the first-person memoir of the book who supervised the movie.) The film assiduously follows the tragic events that included wrong decisions by the men in the mountains and at ground level operations. In fact, the men were left stranded for a long time. When Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) hides out, a Pashtun villager named Gulab finds Luttrell who is at death's door. Gulab risks his life and that of the villagers to bring Luttrell back to health while hiding him. There is a 2000-year-old code of the Pashtunweli that dates back to the pre-Islamic era. It commands aid for a person in dire need from his enemies, Unfortunately, the Taliban murderers find him, and are about to decapitate Lutrell, when this heroic man who found him shoots the would-be murderer. But they are undaunted, and return to basically massacre the entire village. Luttrell is rescued in time by the Americans. So much suspense ending in tears by those watching this film. Brave, brave brilliant men whose lives lasted as long as each one of these fighting brothers protected one another. Their dedication has been posthumously honoured by the bestowment of medals and the making of this astounding movie. The film gave a vivid face to the names of each who lost their lives. Their stories are now told, and we shall not forget them. I am sure the book is equally brilliant.

3.5 -- MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, Justin Chadwick
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This significant film realistically captures the long journey involving several sacrifices -- including 27 years in prison which resulted in the loss of self-determination, both personally and for his people for too many years. It shows through archival photographs and film clips the horrid violence that continued in places like Sharpeville and Capetown when Mandela was in prison and even after the AMC party reached an agreement with the governing power. It portrays the brutality and fear of South Africa's whites treating blacks with ongoing degradation -- a way of life which was built into the political law of the country itself. Nelson Mandela had a single purpose in mind simply and eloquently embodied in most of his speeches; he always stressed his insistence that his people must obtain power in order to self-govern. At times, he resorted to aggressive acts, but only those that targeted empty buildings -- this at the beginning of his political involvement when he was young and wanted to capture attention of whites to show them that blacks could not take anymore oppression and outright murder by the police, including the murder of women and children. Passbooks were burned by blacks with their leader setting an example. Mandela played a clever game with the rulers when power was finally passed onto the AMC and he became President. He was a brave man who miraculously obtained what he worked for even while in prison. His wife Winnie made her own kind of sacrifices, and time in prison she was subjected to torture and suffered loss of self. She came out a changed, angry woman who opted for violence rather than the peace Mandela urged and sought for his people. Ultimately, he rejected her. This film ought to be viewed by everyone who needs to see what it takes to be a hero in the making.

3.0 -- AMERICAN HUSTLE, David O. Russell
[reviewed by Pat Allen] "American Hustle," the new film from David O. Russell, tells the story of two New York con artists, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), as they are forced to help an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) entrap a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner). Despite fantastic costumes, music and setting, the often-sluggish pace of "American Hustle" never seems to match the trashy, excessive lifestyle of its characters. Overly long and predictable, the film manages to find charm in its great soundtrack, humour and stellar performances all around (especially so from Jennifer Lawrence). This is not an exceptional film but it is the most coherent and worthwhile film from a director who has previously received enormous praise for much lesser efforts.

3.5 -- INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, Joel and Ethan Coen
[reviewed by Pat Allen] "Inside Llewyn Davis," the newest film from Joel and Ethan Coen ("Oh Brother Where Art Thou," "No Country for Old Men"), starts with a tired plea for death and then follows a man who can't take leave of his miserable life. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a talented folk singer in the early 1960s, unwilling to simply 'exist' but unable to get his career off the ground. The film trails Llewyn on a mildly Odyssean journey (with a feline companion named Ulysses) through a slate-grey New York as he tries to launch his career and give himself something to live for. Rich with yearning folk music, the Coen Brothers' sardonic humour, and a fantastic supporting cast (including Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, F. Murray Abraham and Justin Timberlake)" Inside Llewyn Davis" is a patient chronicle of a nowhere man looking for anything to call his own.

3.6 -- WALKING WITH DINOSAURS, Barry Cook & Neil Nightingale
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Patchi is a puny Pachyrhinosaurus -- the runt of the litter but as he grows up to defend his huge herd, he becomes a dynamic hero. The film introduces all kind of dinosaurs who lived 70 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period in present-day Alaska. The characters and their wit along with the somewhat convoluted plot are great in this movie, but this obvious blockbuster is definitely for kids. The special effect were superb, and the story a typical one of good versus evil heroism.

2.2 -- THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE, Francis Lawrence
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Katniss is once again having to fight for her life alongside Peeta who have declared they are to be married and are with child. President Snow, master of Panem and all her repressed Districts, changes the game -- so to speak. To everyone's surprise, he announces that all winners will have to fight each other. He is hoping to vanquish Katniss and he senses all the districts idolize her and that she is the fuel for an uprising. The District folk know she is onside with them, and they are against the hunger games, as each year, their own kind is selected and forced to fight one another until only one remaining survivor stands. The tribunes in this new fight however -- some of them -- are secretly not opposing Katniss; they protect her and this small rebellious splinter group, who are also against the games. The special effects were good, especially all those ornate costumes Katniss wore during her first 'hunger games' victory celebration at the beginning of the film. As she turns her dress lights on fire. The costume designer should win awards for the outrageous outfits. One ending snag in the movie, the game master pretends to be on side with Snow, but in fact, he is also joining the rebel movement as we find out at the very end, when Katniss is airlifted out of further lethal danger. The first "Hunger Games" was novel and suspenseful; this one was tired and lacked creative imagination. It would make a great comic book; as a movie it lack spark even though her dresses were on fire and the lightning during the game was always present.

1.6 -- THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE, Francis Lawrence
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The much-anticipated second chapter in the dystopian young-adult franchise finally arrives, a year and a half after the first installment broke box-office records and inspired a generation of young girls to take up archery. Newly-minted Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen, underdog winner of the previous year’s "Hunger Games" (a Battle Royale--style competition between teenagers of different districts) and symbol of the growing resistance against the tyrannical President Snow. As in the first one, the only real excitement comes from the scenes set in the Arena, the deadly and volatile battlefield of the Games, which only takes up the last hour of the film, leaving a good chunk to be wasted on plot exposition, half-hearted character development and tired romances. And though it does improve on the original, mostly due to the replacement at director of Gary Ross (and his shaky-cam) by talented craftsman Francis Lawrence (of "Constantine" and "I Am Legend" fame), it remains a depressingly low-rent, derivative affair, this time with a cliffhanger ending that leaves the story feeling frustratingly incomplete.

2.6 -- FROZEN, Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Following the grand success of 2010’s "Tangled," Walt Disney Animation Studios returns to the great well of fairy tales for their latest feature, this time loosely adapting Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen.” However, co-writers and directors Buck and Lee forgo the traditional Disney narrative of good vs. evil in favour of a more complicated and mature story of two princess sisters, one destined to be queen, who are separated when the eldest one’s magical freezing powers grow out of control. Even though the archetypal elements of a handsome prince, a comedic sidekick and an adventure quest are all present, the story lacks a true villain, making the narrative feel lopsided and turning the main plot problem into more of a misunderstanding than a real danger; while this deviation from the norm would usually be welcomed, in this case it has the unwanted side effect of making the entire film feel rather low-stakes and meaningless. Still, there’s a lot to like about the movie, from the impressive voice cast to the plentiful humour to the enjoyable musical numbers (even if they border on too many), so perhaps a trivial narrative can be forgiven.

1.8 -- OLDBOY, Spike Lee
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Director Lee’s remake (or, in his words, ‘reinterpretation’) of Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook’s 2003 revenge thriller is predictably redundant and unneeded, making minimal changes to the narrative (apart from the necessary Americanization) and succeeding only in increasing the violence over the already-brutal original. Considering the cult status of that film, even when factoring in the foreign language, it’s unclear why some thought a Hollywood remake would be successful or even wanted, as the disturbing content matter further limits an already small audience. Still, on the whole, it’s not much of a downgrade from the overpraised, too-solemn Korean version (itself based upon a Japanese manga) and there’s a kind of gleeful nihilism to the extreme violence this time around, but in its recreation of the original’s most famous scenes – the hammer fight, the twist ending – it plays more like a parody than a remake, forgoing self-seriousness for pitch-black comedy.

3.5 -- MAN OF STEEL, Zack Snyder
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] An extremely thoughtful approach given to this timeless story. The film is dedicated to our Superman hero, graphically telling what happened on Krypton and how his father and mother saved their precious baby (Superman) from obliteration as the kryptonite energy was dwindling on their planet, then was harvested only to implode. But an evil man groomed to protect the planet lets no one stand in his way, as he knows it will soon not exist unless he can get hold of the Codex which evidently contains the magic needed to regenerate the plane. He is captured however after he kills and attacks those in power, including baby Superman's dad. He sent into frozen encapsulation as punishment, as are his fellow fighters. It all sound silly but it works. Leap light years forward, and we see Cal (his real Krypton name) as a school kid saving those around him. His father does not want his son to tell the world of his powers, and this is a major theme in the film. Cal grows up to fight the return of the evil man who is intent on repopulating earth with his fellow Krpytons. He hunts down Cal with the intention of killing him; Cal wants to save Earth, and the muscle-bound all powerful anti-hero wants to use Earth as his breeding ground. The Lois figure is introduced and the film does end with the two heroes getting together. Cal, now Clarke, dawns on those famous pair of glasses to start incognito in his new job at the Daily Planet newspaper working alongside Louis. Henry Cavell does a valiant job playing Superman, and newbies and old timers alike will like him. The epic story is most enjoyable. Lots of fantastic special effects, but the fighting scenes go on too long. I enjoyed far more the human part of the story -- the first hour of this sophisticated 142-minute-long intriguing blockbuster. (The movie was viewed compliments of le SuperclubVidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Montreal).



2.3 -- HIDE AND SEEK, Saad Khan & Saadat Munir
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Pakistan is a vile place to live a gay, lesbian and transgender life. All these marginal people have no rights and are deprived of official identity. They are hunted down in their clubs and arrested. This documentary introduces us to four transgenders who express their own inner feelings to the camera. One noble transgender, Neeli fights for transgender rights and holds demonstrations. She helps those in need. Another transgender, Jenny, is most unhappy with herself. She feels she's made a terrible mistake undergoing castration. It conflicts with her family; they do not know about the operation, and so she lives under the radar. She is studying law, but when her family discovers what she is, they disown her, and she drops out of university. The happiest of the lot is Kami; she loves herself and has a boyfriend. Finally, we meet Waseem who was raped by his uncle. He rejects his gayness, as it is sinful. He reverts to leading a "boy's" life. The urban centers of Lahore and Rawalpindi are places where transgenders secretly celebrate their life, holding parties and dancing until dawn. These parties are tedious to watch and even exhibitionistic in nature. The film goes on too long, and it makes many of the transgenders seem childish in their behaviours. In Pakistan, many transgenders spend their lives dancing or begging. However, the educated ones still must dress as males at university and work. Pakistan is hopelessly cruel to transgenders, but thanks to lobbyists like Neeli, the government has recently introduced new legislation recognizing the existence of a third gender.

4.0 -- I AM GAY AND MUSLIM, Chris Belloni
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Dutch filmmaker travels to Morocco and conducts personal interviews with six gay men. Poignant questions are asked regarding reconciling Islam with being gay. Not one sees contradictions. However, one highly articulate older man states the contradiction of the religion stating all is preordained in an individual's life, yet it emphatically claims homosexuality is a choice -- a wrong and sinful one. Interestingly, this older gay man whose arguments are most compelling brings out a salient point: most men are deprived of female company until marriage. He says this promotes homosexuality among men as they come of age. In fact, he claims so many married Moroccan men lead a double life, enjoying their homosexuality in clandestine clubs. They have children, and are able to live the double life, but not him. Sadly, many parents reject their gay sons. Some are finally accepted, but it is not discussed. Most of the men interviewed chose being happy with a man than going to Mecca, and one man completely rejected his Muslim family's religion when he was kicked out for being gay. An important film that reveals the courage and candor of men who know how to play the gay game in a repressive culture.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Mild-mannered Taiwanese optician Weichung is not at all interested in Feng, his wife, and although she desperately wants to have another child, Weichung finds excuses to avoid any action in the bedroom department. Such behaviour seems to run in the family. His sister Mandy is engaged to San-San, a fellow who is desperately in love with her, but she gets cold feet and breaks off the wedding date. It seems that this brother/sister duo is not exactly marriage material. Weichung meets a young man in the eye glasses store, and we witness the subtle mutual attraction. Still, when the opportunity arises for Weichung to meet privately in a hotel room with the young man, he bolts back to his wife. Evidently, Weichung led a gay life before marrying. His wife sees her husband with the man outside the store one day, where the young man kisses him on the cheek goodbye. The film ends with Mandy who is pregnant, going back to San-San. At their wedding, Weichung reveals he wants to be a proper husband and return to the marriage, but Feng reveals she wants a divorce. Interesting that the film ends with the shattered couple leaving -- confetti floating over them in the air at Mandy and San-San's wedding. This movie is charming as it subtly plays out the conflicting unexpressed emotions of Weichung, a man who is a good father to his little son. His secret sexual orientation comes out, and he is finally liberated to follow through.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This documentary is superbly researched and edited. Gore Vidal in all his wit, razor sharp intellect and mastery of laconic humour is splayed before us. What makes this film timeless is that most of it comprises the star himself talking into the camera or on camera during interviews with politicians and arch enemies, such as ultra-conservative William F. Buckley. Their confrontation was marvelous and brought debating to diabolical levels. Gore was a free thinking genius that the world was and never will be ready for. Best of all, his own candid comments about himself are as amusing as the politicians he decried. For example, he mentions that the good news is the election is over; Reagan won. The bad news is there was a fire in Reagan's library which destroyed the contents: his two comic books, one of which was a colouring book. Gore was not just a brilliant essayist novelist and screenplay writer, he seriously flirted with politics, even ran for the Senate. Many book publishing houses refused to publish him (homosexuality was still a taboo subject), yet he became a media hit when he began writing screen plays, and his work enjoyed great success. He became rich. His personal life was also enriched by his longtime companion who sadly died of AIDS. Gore said it was not a sexual relationship. He felt the longevity of his relationship was due to the absence of sex in the relationship. He also claimed everyone is bisexual, a statement which didn't win him brownie points with Norman Mailer. His intense hatred of America's military and the country's hypocrisy most probably led him to live in Ravello (Amalfi coast, Italy) for most of his adult life. Sadly, he had to return to his home in Los Angeles after the loss of his companion and his own mobility due to arthritis. He was a fabulous looking man whose stare was most disarming, yet totally gentle. I can see why the ladies loved him, along with the men. He was born in 1925 and died in 2012. How unfortunate that many sheltered baby boomers were kept from discovering the man behind the slanderous media presentation that subverted the truth -- a perversion in itself meant to quell and derail so many truths.
ThIs film was screened at Montreal's 2013 Image + Nation Film Festival.

3.0 -- BLUE AND NOT SO PINK, Miguel Ferrari
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Diego's love for Fabrizio, his gay obstetrician lover, is not certain, but he has a change of heart and decides to accept Fabrizio's prior proposal of marriage. Outside the gay club they have arranged to meet, Fabrizio he is brutally attacked and ends up in a coma and dies. It is devastating for Diego and his friends -- a transvestite and a lady who constantly suffers abuse at the hands of her live-in boyfriend. Diego's son comes to stay with his father, and he has a few issues himself. He thinks he is ugly. His dad helps him get through that, and by the end of the film everyone finds love. This is a comedy, despite the tragic element in the film. It contains strong messages about being different and the pervasiveness of homophobia and violence directed towards gays. ThIs film was screened at Montreal's 2013 Image + Nation Film Festival.

2.9 -- IN THE NAME OF, Malgoska Szumowska
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Father Adam Chyro (marvelously acted by) is the pastor of a small parish in the Polish countryside. He enriches the lives of teenage boys sent to his parish from a reformatory school. He coaches them in sports, accompanies them on swimming outings and teaches them not to fight and to believe in the Lord. However, things go amiss when one of the more mature boys falls for the Father -- himself not devoid of 'sin,' as he like to take to the bottle. The film plays the slow attraction with great subtly and ambiguity on the part of the father. Is he or is he not gay? This is a film that shows religious figures caught in the throws of their own homosexuality. A fine film that took the Teddy Award for best LGBT film at this year's Berlin International Film Festival. It was shown in Montreal this year as the opening film at the 2013 Image + Nation Film Festival.

3.6 -- FERMIÈRE, Annie-St-Pierre
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] An endearing film that tracks the wonderful weaving and baking circles that have sustained and nourished the social health of thousands of women living in remote regions of Quebec. We meet wonderful women of wit and energy in their golden years who obsessively weave, leaving their husbands sitting on chairs and boxes and benches looking on as their spouses create beautiful clothes and dishes. This film played at the 2013 Montreal International Documentary Festival.

3.5-- ART VIOLENCE, Udi Aloni, Miriam Abu-Khaled, Batoul Taleb
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Juliano Mer Khamis started Freedom Theatre, an amazing theatre company for Palestinian talents living in Jenna, a refugee region. He was assassinated right outside the theatre in 2011. His aim was to rise above the politics of separation and embrace humanity through art and acting. The film poignantly features his actors and the revelation of their dedication to him and their subsequent loss of hope following his death. The films features actors speaking, bringing kids in to see their shows, along with several scenes from their fascinating production of "Waiting for Godot," and "Antigone." It would seem that this noble pioneer who wanted his art to bridge the gaps in the age-old conflict is yet another martyr in the struggle to obtain freedom of thought for all regardless of background. This film played at the 2013 Montreal International Documentary Festival.

2.2 -- BLOODY DAUGHTER, Stéphanie Argerich
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] She's a gifted Argentine pianist, but a lousy mother, as we hear and meet her three daughters -- each with different fathers -- all musicians, including Charles Dutoit. The director's father, Stephen Kovacevich, also a concert pianist, stalls getting papers for his daughter who wants to legally take his last name. He also appears to be selfish, though he and Martha become best friends after their divorce. Martha is a neurotic artist who seems overly preoccupied with her own inner turmoil and lack of joy in life. Only when she performs does she forget her troubles. The film is not a very flattering take on her, but it is honest as each daughter, along with Martha, speaks candidly. She has the adoration of each of her three daughters. In fact, Stéphanie, who is the youngest, calls her a goddess. Her middle daughter Chen is half Chinese and lived with her father until she was 16. Martha claims her father Chen kidnapped her while visiting them both in Denmark where they lived at the time. What I did like about the film were the clips of her playing piano and her vulnerability. Her favourite composer is Schumann. She feels an affinity with him. Interesting to note he was went mad; his music showed his extreme torment -- much like she does in her personal life. This film played at the 2013 Montreal International Documentary Festival.

1.5 -- DIANA, Oliver Hirschbiegel
[reviewed by Meredith Slifkin] Oliver Hirschbiegel’s "Diana," despite some sumptuous costumes and an eager performance from Naomi Watts as the famed princess, is an unfortunately maudlin and saccharine affair. The film focuses on the last two years of Diana’s life, roughly represented as the period during which she separated herself from Charles and the Windsors, came into her own as a public activist, and experienced a tumultuous relationship with a Pakistani heart surgeon named Haznat Khan (Naveen Andrews). The film gives only a surface-level attention to Diana as public figure and focuses instead on her relationship with Khan, the result of which produces numerous overwrought and embarrassing romantic clichés, rendering the film devoid of any passion, completely neutered by the plodding dialogue and visuals that seem to be shot through rose-colored glasses. Watts, though not nailing it, sufficiently captures Diana’s voice and mannerisms, but neither she, nor the albeit impressive hair, makeup and costume transformation can redeem this shallow depiction, that in trying to represent Diana’s vulnerability instead depicts her as rather infantile. Any attempts to address race are absent, the film instead opting to focus on the generic trials and tribulations of the love affair. A montage of an afternoon spent in the English countryside set to a recording of “Ne Me Quitte Pas” is particularly unbearable. Overall, the film is a mostly cringe-worthy attempt to reconcile Diana’s budding public confidence with her troubled personal life, and succeeds in representing neither. The wig, at least, is spot on.

4.0-- BLUE JASMINE, Woody Allen
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] I'm giving this film a 4 rating simply because Cate Blanchet pulls off the performance of a lifetime as she portrays Jasmine, an affected socialite whose life has spiraled into a neurotic frenzy fueled by destitution, despair and angst that accelerates into madness as she tries to reclaim the uber-wealthy life she once enjoyed living with her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin). It turns out Hal is as crooked as a jagged road heading for a dead end. In fact, his ponzy schemes are exposed by the now jaded Jasmine to the FBI when she discovers he's a serial Romeo. Hal ends up committing suicide, and Jasmine ends up living with her sweet, happy-go-lucky sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Both girls were adopted as babies, and as the movie progresses, we find out they truly have nothing in common except the apartment they share in San Francisco that is actually where Ginger lives. She's taken in Jasmine out of pity when the latter leaves Hal. Yet it is Jasmine who is a failure who, however, assumes airs of grandeur trying to be an interior decorator. She constantly criticizes Ginger about her choice of men, yet she is a dismal failure with the opposite sex. She meets a man and lies to him about her past and present. But Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) Ginger's former hubby exposes the wannabe Jasmine's lies to the man who is about to buy her an engagement ring. It turns out Hal stole the $200,000 Ginger and Augie had won in a lottery. Hal had them invest with his hotel schemes which basically failed. They were left penniless. This film has elements of Allen's own life: Hal takes up with the nanny who is a teen (Allen ended up marring his adopted daughter who is zillions of years younger than him). The sisters are adopted. (Mia Farrow adopted their kids, as you recall), Hal is lothario (Allen proved he was one too when he left Mia Farrow). The flashbacks of Jasmine's life with Hal that piggyback her present situation of poverty are so effective. It's a crisp film with superb acting by the all-star cast. Blanchet has now usurped the Meryl Streep mantle. Just watch her in action and be amazed at the power of her thespian genius. You'll never want to drink jasmine tea again or invest your money with a showy New Yorker. This film is currently playing at Cineplex in Montreal.

3.2 -- KINGS OF SUMMER, Jordan Vogt-Roberts
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A coming of age film in which three young fellows decide they've had enough of their nagging parents, and so they decide to build their own cabin in the forest. They hunt for food and occasionally cheat by roasting take-out chicken over a spit. One of the fellows invites a girl he likes to their secret hideout but she soon turns her attention to another guy. A conflict ensues, and soon a deadly snake appears inside the cabin only to bite the quirkiest boy of them all. The film ends with reconciliation all round. This is a delightful extremely well acted film that shows you can run away into nature before human nature takes over and one returns home to the very place where problems orginated, but where love beckons memories linger just as common sense and understanding will outlive boyish dreams and turn all males of all ages into true men. (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclub Vidéotron in Verdun, Montreal).

3.8 -- THE BOOK THIEF, Brian Percival
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A young Liesel Hubermann loses her little brother to illness on the deportation train that has rounded up Communists just before the outbreak of WWll. Her mother is forced to give her over to two German foster parents, Hans and Rose Hubermann. Liesel can't read, but the book she has found, dropped by one of the grave diggers while digging the site for her brother -- how to dig a grave -- is all that she has from her former life along with a photo of her brother. As life goes on, Liesel becomes very close to her new 'Papa' (Hans) and her tough new mom, Rosa, who eventually begins to soften towards her new daughter. Papa teaches Liesel to read. Max, a Jewish refugee -- the son of a man who once saved Hans' life turns up at the Hubermann door and he is hidden in the basement. Liesel becomes close to him as she does her neighbour, adorable Rudy. Liesel 'steals' books as she learns to read, and she reads them to Max when he falls into a coma while being hidden in the freezing cold basement. She becomes a writer. But we only know this at the ending of the film; the camera pans over the estate she has left upon her death. This deeply moving film is superbly acted: Geoffry Rush (Hans), Emily Watson (Rosa), Sophie Nelisse (Liesel) and Nico Liersch (Rudy) were exceptional. The film authentically tracks the lives of these people and their relationships during the war. Scenes of great suspense, laughter and heartbreak effectively unfold. There is one invisible character who narrates bits of this film. His name is Death -- done as a voice over. Eventually he claims the lives of all these people whom we have grown to know over time, and whom we have become most attached. I liked the fact this film is set in a small town in Germany; we are given a unique intimate view into the destruction evil causes on humanity as we witness the long horrid arm of Hitler reaching out to destroy Jews and Germans alike.

3.1 -- KILLING SEASON, Mark Johnson
{reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Deep in the Appalachian mountains, Ben Forrester, (Robert De Niro) an ex-Colonel, lives as a hermit in his log cabin. He needs to go into town, and in the middle of the forest, he meets a man who helps him with is car that has just broken down. Ben invites him back in the rain to his cabin and the men appear to be getting along until this stranger addresses him by the name 'Colonel.' It turns out this stranger is an excellent archer who, in fact, has come to hunt down Forester. This deadly stranger was part of a gang called Scorpions who raped and tortured Serbians during the Bosnian war. It was the Colonel who had the gang lined up and shot one by one, but he failed to kill the stranger even though he shot him in the back. It's time to even scores. There is a lot of violence and insanity in this film. In the end, neither dies, but each finds his redemption. Well acted, but it became silly at the end. Travolta just can't escape his "Hairspray" persona despite his shaved head. He didn't upstage De Niro though he did try to liquidate him on screen. (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Quebec).

1.5 -- THE HEAT, Paul Feig
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Sandra Bullock as FBI agent Sarah Ashburn has class and does things by the book, but when she teams up with foul-mouth, vulgar cop Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), she gains an edgy groove and more or less becomes as uncouth as her partner. This is a silly movie with a few funny segments, but catching the drug lord -- who in fact is a former cop -- becomes as unimportant as this film. Sandra Bullock has great talent, and the question arises why (aside from the money) is she taking on such a trite role. I think it's because she wants to show her former real-life lover, Jesse James -- who dumped her for a biker girl -- that she can be bad-ass mean and look sexy in leather, which she wears for her character transformation when as a nice cop she turns nasty and naughty. (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclub Vidéotron in Verdun, Montreal).

3.7 -- AFTER EARTH, M. Knight Shyamalan
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A highly focused and affecting sci-fi film that is done with honesty and solemnity. Earth has been ravaged by aliens and all humans have been resettled on another habitation in space. Now, 1000 years in the future, Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) is training to be a top ranger, but fails the physical side of the test, though he is a great runner. His father, Cypher (Will Smith) is a legendary ranger who decides to take his on a mission, but after a disastrous crash on earth where lethal dangers abound, they are stranded inside the ship. Cyper's legs are broken. Kitai is sent by his father to retrieve the beacon that will get them rescued. Kitia embarks on a treacherous trek, and disobeying his father's orders to prove to him he can make it all the way, he moves on to find the beacon. His father has ordered him back because his oxygen tablets have run out. His father guides him, but when the electronic device that connects them to one another which is worn on Kitai's arm breaks, things get extremely dangerous. Kitai is left on his own. His older sister was killed by one of the aliens a millennium ago. The tragedy must have happened on earth (this part of the film is ambiguous). It is a death about which Kitai feels great guilt and chronic sadness. She protected him and he witnessed her death. In the end, he proves to his father that he is indeed ready to be a ranger. His father salutes him, as one does when meeting a hero ranger. This is one of the best futuristic film I have seen. The father-son relationship is pure chemistry; they are like that in real life, so that helps. It was also frightening. Will Smith was very serious, and one forgets just how funny he can be, because this film took itself seriously. (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Quebec).

1.9-- REDEMPTION, Steven Knight
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] On the run from a military court martial, an ex-soldier (Jason Statham) suffering from PTSS has turned to the bottle and Cristina (Agata Buzek), a nun who serves soup outside. His name is Joey Jones; he becomes a drunk after he leaves the army, gets beat up and escapes into a gorgeous condo in London. He gets involved with a Chinese gang and makes a lot of money which he gives to the nun for whom he carries a torch, and she likes him too. He tracks down a killer who brutally murdered his friend. He throws him off the roof of a skyscraper during a private party which he gets himself into. The film ends with an aerial shot that reiterates the beginning where people are being tracked down in Afghanistan; this time he is being tracked down by the London police flying their helicopters. Joey seeks redemption for all the people he's killed during the war and in London by giving all the money to his ex-wife and the nun. Cristina seeks redemption for having killed her sexually abusive gymnastics coach under whom she trained when a young teen in Russia. She turns to God for salvation. A loosely edited film that is somewhat unlikely, but Jason Statham always gets one's attention. He ought to take diction lessons; he mumbled a lot of his lines. This was not his best movie, and I would not recommend seeing it. (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Quebec).

3.7 -- KON -TIKI, Joachim Ronning & Espen Sandberg
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] An excellent biopic that tracks the voyage of Thor Heyerdahl with his five-man team to Polynesia. He believed South Americans back in pre-Columbian time could have crossed the sea to settle there. Eight thousand miles he traveled in a boat replicating the type used by these people. The 101-day-long voyage is marvelously conveyed in the film. They endured sharks, wicked weather, rescuing one of their men that purposely went overboard in feat that the boat he had built for the crew was doomed. In fact, the boat (Kon-Tiki) was getting water-logged. The cinematography was superb. (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Quebec).

2.8-- OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, Antoine Fuqua
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The White House is invaded by a terrorist group which is form South, not North Korea. The President, (Aaron Eckhart) is held captive along with his key national security people. They manage to obtain two of the three codes to activate Ceberus that will basically blow up the US. Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) was the president's key guard, but he was dismissed once an accident occurred ten years ago on a bridge that caused the death of the president's wife. Banner still works in the White House but no longer close to the President. Banning ends up saving the day though after the bloody aftermath caused by the terrorists. It's a high action movie with a rather good plot. Morgan Freeman assumes the President's position when the latter is held hostage, and as usual, the actor does a great job as thespian and as the interim President. It's a pretty good film, but predictable in many parts. Lots of violence can't make up for the lack of subtlety in the plot. The question arises if they could actually happen, and given the state of chaos in the present government, I think it could. (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Quebec).

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Terrific quality with sci-fi action directly related to plot movement. The characters nobly capture their original counterparts while adding their own personality flavouring. The film is slick, classy and current. The plot centers around capturing Khan, a super-human who has been frozen in time and come back to take over mankind by annihilating the present world population and destroying the Federation. His crew has also been frozen and placed into torpedoes. The torpedo theme becomes integral to trying to destroy Khan. Kirk must hunt him down, but Khan convinces Kirk that he means well. We are caught in the suspense and poignant irony wondering about good and evil and evidently the Federation and Kahn have a hornet that stings no matter where it is flying in space. This complicated "Star Trek" is worth seeing.
(This film was viewed compliments of le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Quebec).

2.1 -- TO THE WONDER, Terrence Malick
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A major (inexplicable) disappointment from the director of masterpieces such as "Days of Heaven," "The Thin Red Line" and "The Tree of Life." Parisian single mother Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and Neil (Ben Affleck) are in love. They seem to speak by doing constantly slow dervish dances around one another. I think Neil has about four voiced lines in the entire film. His thoughts are whispered, as are Marina's, but she does most of the talking. Neil takes her to his town in Oklahoma and Tatiana, Marina's daughter comes with her. Some kind of unarticulated dissension happens, and as alienation sets in, Neil sends the two females packing. Off they got to Paris. Years later they meet up again, but Neil has had an affair with Jane a farm girl (Rachel McAdams) whose daughter died. She basically imitates Marina's movements by waltzing around Neil, only she's less balletic, and ends up being too plain a Jane for him. Maybe that's why he lets her go. She wants him to her marry her and she gives him her farm that is in receivership so that she and her land can be rescued by this silent hero. Neil receives a letter of woe from Marina. He decides to let Marina back into his life. But soon, it is Marina that leaves him after a few months of reuniting with him. The film is a poetic love story that is so affected, I grew increasingly frustrated. Is that why some of my relationships did not work out? Because I didn't dance like 80- pound Marina did around her man who ended up leaving her anyway. I am sorry but any girl that has to play a dancing sweet nymph mute is obviously in danger of turning into an invisible fairy whose man will surely fly away to meet more grounded gals. (This film was viewed compliments of Superclub Vidéotron in Verdun, Quebec).

1.6 -- PLANES, Klay Hall
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A spinoff of Pixar’s least-popular franchise, "Cars," this (originally-intended-to-be-DTV) kids movie is set in the same (baffling) universe, but focuses instead on the titular flying vehicles, specifically Dusty (voiced by Dane Cook, lacking his trademark douchiness), a Nebraskan crop duster who dreams of making it big and winning a globe-spanning race, which ends up forming the film’s main narrative. What happens next is boringly predictable and banal, and even though there’s a positive message at the film’s heart, it’s surrounded by fart jokes, toilet humour and raunchy double entendres – not exactly the stuff of mature, Pixar-level animation. Even the film’s voice cast falls far short of the usual standards these days, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus voicing a French-Canadian racer (complete with a terrible and borderline insulting accent), John Cleese playing a stereotypically British one, and even Sinbad (who is apparently still around) getting a part as a delivery truck. Perhaps the most offensive thing about this supposedly inoffensive film, though, is how it utilizes and misrepresents other cultures as merely subservient before the great American hero.

3.5 -- THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, Derek Cianfrance
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Luke gives up his job as a motorcycle stunt performer when he discovers he is the father of his ex-girl friend's son. He goes on a bank-robbery spree with a partner to provide for the boy, but when one heist goes wrong, he receives a lethal gun shot. The policeman who shot him is Avery, an ambitious by-the book cop destined to make it big in politics. Ten years later, the son of Avery and Luke become drug buddies. They are completely unaware of each other's past: Luke's son never knew who his father was, but when he finds out, he seeks revenge for the killing of his father. This is an engrossing film that is superbly acted. Police force corruption, integrity and father-son relationships weave in and out of this intense drama. (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Quebec).

1.7 -- OBLIVION, Joseph Kosinski
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Great special effects of drones shooting up Tom Cruise, but that's about it. Ah shucks, they never seem to get him. What a surprise! No I do like the guy, really. What a huge incomprehensible bore this film is. Earth has been wiped out by an enemy who has destroyed the moon, and so most of the planet is left in shatters. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is supposed to repair damaged drone monitors who ensure no more attacks will happen. He believes that one of the moons of Saturn will be the safe haven for all mankind, and that very soon, all humans will inhabit the place. This sci-fi film is so out of reach save for the one place: his retreat in the woods by a pond. The character has promise. He likes music and poetry, after all. Tom Cruise plays his favourite role: the ever hyper-active action hero who needs to save the world and his wife. The kiss in the film has got to be the worst. A dandelion could do better. Still, I like Cruise. He is so weird that he is interesting. So much for money spent on this ridiculous film whose plot twists are sheer nonsense. (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Quebec).

3.2 -- STOKER, Park Chan Wook
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A brilliantly crafted film that makes masterful use of editing, camera angles and soft lighting cinematography to intensify the film's suspense and increasing darkness. The plot is a sneaky, slinky one based on a mother and daughter who are grieving the loss of the husband/father. The daughter has only hostility toward her mother, and her behaviour is ominously introverted. Her beloved dad who shared his love of hunting and collecting birds with her linger painfully in her memory. He was killed in a mysterious car accident whose scorching flames destroyed any evidence of how it all happened. Flashbacks suggest a lot, but the viewer is left to fill in the space. As the family gets lost in a sea of rooms on a huge estate in the country, Uncle Charlie suddenly appears. He makes everyone disappear who threatens the mother and daughter. Charlie has a secret, but his charisma overshadows his true nature. Charlie is a killer, who longs to possess the daughter. The movie is obtuse at times, and not every plot twist is clear; still it is so riveting in its hypnotic effect, that the only disappointment is it all has to end. Violence and female loneliness seem to be entwined in this highly unique film. It is the Korean director's first English language film; he did a superb job, despite the fact that Nicole Kidman (the mother) looks far too young, smart and beautiful to play an unloving airhead.


3.9-- THERMAE ROMAE, Hideki Takeuchi
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Set in Rome, 128 A.D., this hilarious offbeat film has Japanese actors in togas when not disrobing to soak up their best beloved gift from Hadrian -- the public baths. Lucius Modestus is a designer and builder of baths. He can't stand the garish designs he sees in these baths and escapes underwater in one bath, only to be sucked into a watery hole that takes him into modern-day Japan. He ends up in various bath stores and in one house in particular with old Japanese men whom Lucius calls the flat-faced people. He thinks he has been pulled into a faraway colony of Rome. He is amazed by all the uber-modern technologies, bath gadgets and bottled beverages he experiences, but he doesn't really know how to work anything. He takes these novel inventions and ideas back into Rome when he gets sucked back once again in one bath house in Japan. His designs catch the attention of Hadrian, and before you know Lucius is embroiled in bath building and changing history. The girl he meets who rescues him from his confusions helps him regain his fame and ancient land. This film offers one hysterical line after the other. The situation is absurd, but it works. The nudity is totally fun, and the main actor, Hirohsi Abe, is perfect in the role of Lucius. The film has opera music all the way through it which richly adds to the comedic tone and melodrama in this Japanese box-office hit.

3.8 -- DEAD MAN DOWN, Neils Arden Oplev
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Victor (Collin Farrell) whose real name is Lazlo, lost his wife and family in a crime hit. His vengeance involves rounding up all those involved with killing them. He infiltrates the crime cell, posing as one of them. He meets Beatrice (Noomi Rapage), a victim of a car accident that has left her face scarred. She blackmails Victor into killing the man responsible for the accident. She has recorded Victor strangling a man in an apartment across from hers. He has no choice but to carry out the deed while he plans his own vengeance. The plot takes a few great twists that hurdle the two together in several ways that test their love for one another. This is a great thriller. The plot is edgy, and unlike many suspense thrillers, unfolds in a way that makes each character important and pithy. They are key to revealing the full story, and the action plays out in a compressible, riveting way. The cast was perfect. A must-see! (This film was viewed compliments of le Superlub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Quebec).

2.2-- TRANCE, Danny Boyle
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] There are far too many superfluous twists in this art theft plot that is more confusing than clever. It is a disappointing turn-out for the director, considering Boyle was the master-mind behind "Slum Dog Millionaire." The unique plot is intriguing, but becomes so incredulous, that silliness sets in. Simon (James McAvoy) who works at a fine arts auction company loses his memory which is most unfortunate, since he's just made off with a multi-million-dollar Goya painting, and his partners are furious. He can't remember where he placed the canvas after a blow to the head by one of his partners. Simon cut the canvas out of the frame during the heist, with the intention of keeping the painting for himself. His nails are pulled out by Frank, his ruthless partner, and despite endless sessions of hypnosis, Simon doesn't seem to recall where the canvas is. The line between memory loss, manipulation by the hypnotist and miserly intentions roll into a plot that plays itself out most often as a flashback than in the here and now. Rosario Dawson played the hypnotist with cool candor, and Vincent Cassel in the role of Frank who had to play a villain turned valiant savior, made a fine effort, but despite the competent cast, all things ended up a big blur on the screen cinematic canvas. (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclubvidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Quebec).

2.2 -- WAR OF THE ARROWS, Kin Han-mi
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Set in the Manchu War of 1636. One particularly determined man out to protect, find and save his sister from the warring Chinese, is a cracker-jack master of the bow and arrow. The film shows the brutality of the Chinese during and after their village massacres. Rambo-style heroism can't save several scenes whose suspense lies in several cat and mouse chases. Lots of extras dressed in impressive costumes gives the film a rich, historical quality, but it brings the bow back too, thereby missing its target, despite the sharp arrows attached to it. This film was screened at the 2013 Montreal Korean Film Festival.

3.4 --ARCHITECTURE 101, Yong-Joo Lee
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A sweet but charming love story between two teens who fall in love, but misunderstandings and the inability to declare their love for one another sets them asunder for years until the girl reappears in his office to ask him to design a house on an island that her father will occupy once more in his dying days; he’s in the hospital. Unfortunately, her former love is going to get married to his assistant. It seems to be too late for them to reunite. The movie is slow moving but anguishing. However, there are many funny parts too, for the boy defers to his best friend on how to pursue the girl. His best friend is hilarious in his advice. Both teens met in an architecture class in college. It seems that they were not really meant to get together. I did not like the actress in this film; however, the male actors were superb. This film was screened at the 2013 Montreal Korean Film Festival.

3.8 -- THE HOST, Bong Joon-Ho
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] What a fabulous slick horror/thriller film. Those Koreans really know how to blend class with chaos to keep you on the edge of your seat. I loved the fact that classical music was used in several scenes, not to mention black humour in moments where your heart is supposed to be weeping for the dead. The film opens inside a chemical lab located alongside the Han River. The American chemist/doctor instructs his Korean underling to dump out the hundreds of formaldehyde bottles that are just collecting dust. The employee refuses telling his boss it will pollute the river, but the boss doesn't care, and even threatens him verbally if he doesn't comply. Within hours of the stuff being dumped a horrid monstrous creature appears in the river and attacks young oodles of students who are watching it swim. They think it's just a huge fish that has appeared. The film centers around a young girl and her mentally slow father, her grandfather and uncle and aunt. She gets taken by the creature, and the family sets out to find her. The creature uses his tail to take humans to his lair which is a huge sewer. He is a terrible host as he eats what he gets. The hoax is the Korean government tells the population that the creature is spreading a virus, and so a lot fo pople get quarantined, including the girls father. But he escapes and along with his family, sets off ot locate her. When they do, it's too late. This anti-American film slashes most of the stuff America is doing with chemicals in Korea, and it sure presents those Yankees working in Korea as a collective lot of liars. "The Host"is not only a cool creature sci-fi film, it's about unstinting family devotion, and the lengths all the members go to retrieve a lost one, despite their characters flaws and in-fighting. Keeping the family clan intact is the prime value that comes across in this unique flic. Needless to say, there is plenty of deliciously weird scenes and a few arrows being shot mid-air that hit their mark. The film was selected for the Directors' Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006. I viewed it this year
at the 2013 Montreal Korean Film Festival.

3.5 -- A WEREWOLF BOY, Jo Sung-He
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A remarkable love story about a young teenage girl who tames a wild child that lurks near the house where she lives with her mother. The house is in the Korean countryside, where forest and hills fill the landscape along with a few nearby neighbours who befriend the mother and child. When this wild boy is found by the teen, she despises him; he behaves like a dog, so she trains him as if he really were one. They become close. This deeply angers the landlord -- an evil chap determined to wed the girl in the future. He will have her by any means. The film is a flashback in fact, as we meet much aged version of this young girl who is going back to the house to either sell or keep it. She is actually living in the States now. The boy becomes so devoted to his 'master' he will protect her and on two occasions he does. He turns into a werewolf and defends her. Evidently, the deceased father of the girl was a scientist who worked with another in the area, and they conducted some kind of genetic research on the boy -- a war orphan. The girl and her boy eventually leave one another; he has carried her into the forest for protection, but now his life is under threat; the authorities are hunting him down -- along with the scientist who partnered with the father of the teen. The scene of separation of the boy and the beautiful teen is heart wrenching. Will they ever reunite? The ending of this film is most remarkable. The acting superbly supports the plot as it builds to its conclusion. The werewolf visuals were subtle and not overplayed. In fact, we see the transformation of the boy into his other self only twice. Although the premise is preposterous, it is a one-of-a-kind love story that lingers in your heart long after the film ends. This film was screened at the 2013 Montreal Korean Film Festival.

3.9 -- MIRACLE IN CELL No. 7, Lee Hwan-Kyung
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Yung-Gu is mentally handicapped. Ye-sung, his adorable very bright 6-year-old daughter, is his best friend; they are two peas in a pod. They joke together and the daughter helps him do most things. He lives and breathes for her. She wants him to buy a hard-cased back; hers was actually stolen, and one day her dad sees that a girl is wearing the very one his daughter had mistakenly left at school. The culprit's father is the Police Commissioner. One day, Yung-Gu follows a little girl who is going to show him where to buy the back pack. Suddenly she disappears around the corner; she has fallen and hit her head on the ice and instantly dies. He finds her and is giving her mouth to mouth, only to be seen and immediately arrested. He is put in a cell and here is where the story captures your heart. He becomes best friends with his cellmates -- all of whom have their own personalities. They sneak his daughter into the cell and eventually life takes on a comedic sheen. The trial we witness is filmed 16 years later in a flash forward. It is his beloved daughter who is defending him, but he is never seen. In fact, he received the death sentence. The irony in this movie is effective. But the acting was outstanding. Park Shin-Hye who plays his daughter was a miracle act as was Ryoo Seung-Yong who played her father. The emotion was so heartbreaking; I cried and laughed throughout the film that broke box-office sales in South Korea. This film was screened at the 2013 Montreal Korean Film Festival.

2.9 -- SNITCH, Ric Waugh
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The owner of a highly successful trucking transport company (Dwayne Johnson) offers to transport drugs in order to catch the men at the top. He does this because his son is in jail for having accepted a parcel at his home containing drugs. He gets caught. He's in the slammer for 10 years. However, if his father can bring the top dog drug dealers into the governor of the state (Susan Sarandon), his son will be released. He uses one of his ex-convicts employees to be introduced to the drug gang. Eventually, he meets those who run the show (Benjamin Bratt). An exciting film with action that is believable and rather suspenseful. Still, the film's twists are not as sharp or imaginative as one might expect. Dwayne Jonson is a pleasure to watch; he always seems to play the innocent guy who gets into dangerous situations. Sarandon was miscast in the role. Her acting was dull. (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclubvidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Quebec)

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Lake Placid is anything but placid. It's infested with man-eating crocs. The surrounding wilds have been barricaded with an electrocution fence. Needless to say, poachers and other bad guys end up fried on the barbed wire. A butch-type croc hunter together with the town sheriff -- a woman seems to be able to save the day which includes rescuing teens on a school beach trip. Lots of gory stuff and ridiculous characters make this a great movie to watch when you've seen all other horror flics. The acting is so bad, I was laughing most of the time, even when people were eaten. Sorry folks; I'm a gal with a huge heart, but I think this film might find its rightful place -- inside the belly of a croc! (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclub Videotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Quebec).

3.9 -- MASQUERADE, Choo-Change-min
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The king is being threatened, and so he finds an imposter to replace his position. However, the man chosen -- an actor -- is not interested in accepting, yet he has no choice, once he is told it is for the good of the people. The imposter is a country man who would do anything to help the common folk. However, intrigues are afoot. The real king is drugged and out of commission for a time, and so his replacement must take his 'role' seriously. He ends up doing a wonderful job, spotting the corrupt men who serve as his counsel and confiding in the good ones. This is a superb movie with many plot twists. The message is clear. No amount of money or position of royalty can make a good king. In the end, the imposter is so revered, one wonders if he will return to rule as a proper just king. An order to kill him as been served, yet he will not leave the throne, until forced to by his loyal mentors. The acting and cinematography were exceptional. This is a prince and a pauper story whose viewing rewards are aplenty. Kee Byung-him who played the real king and of course the imposter is a great actor.
This film was screened at the 2013 Montreal Korean Film Festival.

3.7 -- JACK THE GIANT SLAYER, Bryan Singer
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Jack, a poor farming young man, is given lethal beans by a monk in exchange for his horse. The monk is wanted, since an evil royal figure (more about him later) knows he has the all-powerful beans. The monk will never give them to one who means ill will. He needs that horse to escape, but he doesn't make it far. Before being captured, this kind monk living in the Middle Ages, tells Jack never to let water touch them as they will bring about the end of the world, creating terrible giants who wish to destroy humankind. Unfortunately, one of the beans slips into the floor drain of the primitive house Jack shares with his greedy uncle. Huge strangling trees appear in the form of bean stocks. Princess Isabella, who loves to leave the palace, gets lost and ends up in Jack's house, but she gets caught by the giants who take her up to enormous heights at the top of the huge trees where they live. Her father and her betrothed together with his men set out to rescue the giants. They have a fair bit of climbing to do to reach her. On the way, we see just how evil her betrothed is. His mission is to have all the men climbing with him killed and take over the world using the giants to do his dirty work. Things don't go quite as he had planned. Jack comes along too, for he had met the princess; sparks of love flew between them. Jack is really the hero, and so it was a good thing he was valiant enough to take the climb to rescue her, despite his fear of heights. When the group finds the giants, the monsters bow down to her betrothed, for whoever wears a crown is worshipped by these monstrous creatures. The evil fiancé, however, has no intentions of rescuing the princess; he wants to use his power as wearer of a crown to run the world with the giants as his warring muscle men. And to think he was best friends with the princess' father. No one had suspected, except for Isabella who had no feelings whatsoever for the man her father had selected for her to marry. This is a first-class film whose cinematic creations and special effects are enough to wish you had never read the classic fairytale in the first place. The giants are awfully horrid looking, yet totally believable. Clever dialogue, imaginative characters and unexpected events turn this film into a must-see no matter how old you are. It's a fresh take on an old timeless tale. (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclub Videotron, 5000 Wellington, Verdun, Quebec).

3.8 -- THE CALL, Brad Anderson
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Jordan (Halle Berry) is a veteran 911 operator. She receives a call from a young teenager reporting a prowler in the house. Jordan tells her what to do, but when she loses contact with her, Jordan immediately calls her back. It is a call she will live to regret. The prowler hears the ring and pulls the poor girl out from under the bed where she is hiding. What makes this scene work is Jordan had instructed her to open the window in her room and throw her shoes outside. That way the prowler will think she has left the room. It actually works until that call is made by Jordan, and so the prowler backtracks and finds the girl hiding under the bed. Her body is found days later. Jordan has a meltdown, blaming herself for the lethal consequence of that call. She is put on teacher trainer duty for 911 initiates. The real thrust of the movie happens when a girl is kidnapped while in a parking lot. Jordan is in the middle of teaching her initiates how to handle calls, when the first responder -- new at the job herself -- can't handle the call. In an instant, Jordan takes over. This kidnapped teen has been put in the trunk of a car. The movie is essentially about Jordan keeping her alive, telling her what to do. But things go from bad to worse when all hell breaks lose and this girl is put through torment beyond belief. It turns out her kidnapper meets his match in Jordan. This is not another formulaic Hollywood production; it has edgy novel twists that are wholly believable. The suspense is finely crafted to keep tensions taut. Abigail Breslin, who played the kidnapped girl, was terrific. Berry was perfect in creating a professional yet vulnerable first responder whose will to save someone overcomes her own weaknesses. (This film was viewed compliments of Le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Quebec).

2.9 -- WHITE HOUSE DOWN, Roland Emmerich
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Bombastic director Emmerich returns to the scene of his biggest success ("Independence Day," of course) for this relatively small-scale – especially compared to the worldwide disasters of "The Day After Tomorrow" and "2012" – action flick. As the second of this year’s dueling White House invasion flicks (they always do seem to come in pairs, don’t they), it runs the obvious risk of repeating what "Olympus Has Fallen" did just a few months ago; to distinguish itself, then, it takes itself far less seriously, emphasizing the buddy-cop dynamic between Channing Tatum’s John McClane-lite and Jamie Foxx’s Obama impression. And it mostly works: though the digital effects look a bit dodgy at times, and the narrative’s a bit too convoluted for its own good, the chemistry of the two male leads endears throughout, even when the action becomes cartoonish and the tone overly jingoistic. But then that’s an Emmerich film – fiercely patriotic, ridiculously over-the-top, and hilariously goofy. The man simply aims to entertain, and this is one of his best.

3.2 -- LEMON, Laura Brownson & Beth Levison
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A remarkable biopic presented by the star beat poet himself -- Russell Simmons -- AKA Lemon. He's an ex-con who discovered poetry while at Rikers. Coming from the projects in Brooklyn, his childhood days were disastrous and they followed him right into adulthood. He and his brother Peter became small-time drug pushers for the building they lived in. His mother Mille was a heroin addict. She dies of AIDS. A lot of his poetry is about her and their mutual love. As a kid from Puerto Rico, he stuck out with his blond hair and so Lemon became his name. Peter and his wife figure in the film as major influences -- the former not initially positive, but that changes at the end of the film.

The story centers around Lemon's steely drive to become a very successful poet. He starts out performing in schools, but mid-way he raises the bar by connecting with a small American theatre company. After some performances in this company, he is swooped up by American Public Theatre's "Under the Radar" festival. Richard Kerner who ran the smaller theatre where Lemon first began performing is dropped; the American Public Theatre wants to own all the production rights. Kerner is so disappointed, but begrudgingly releases Lemon from their small contract. Later on in the film Lemon returns to Kerner asking for funds. That scene is very telling of Lemon's great ambition and his determination to go to higher places even if it means betraying the one who gave him his first start. There was a reason why Lemon approached Kerner. Although his "Under the Radar" stint was successful, the American Public Theatre lacks funds to support Lemon's mainstay run of "County Kings" -- the name of his show. He is told he must raise $50,000 if he wants to continue his run. Despite rave reviews of his work from his two-week stint in "Under the Radar," he can't get the money. He ends up unemployed, taking care of his two daughters while his highly supportive wife earns the money. One day, Spike Lee calls out to him just as Lemon is leaving a restaurant. He had seen Lemon's performance, and offers to put up the money Lemon needs to continue the show indefinitely at the American Public Theatre. Lemon's poetry is tough, defiant and extremely passionate. He is gifted and utterly disciplined.

Throughout the film, Lemon presents his compelling poetry. He also offers poignant views on poverty, power tycoons, resilience and what it takes to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve success and endure. Interestingly, he has a problem after he gets his main run. He hyperventilates all the time on stage. He knows he needs his wife with him during his performances. She quits her job to be with him. She is the sweet cherry that sweetens up Lemon's life. Nothing made him crack during all the tough times -- just the lack of her presence. I found that rather touching. (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington, Verdun, Quebec).

3.7 -- HOPE SPRINGS, David Frankel
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Pairs up two of Hollywood's finest actors: Merle Streep who plays doting wife Kay and Tommy Lee Jones, playing the incurably complaining husband who is mute when not mouthing off or counting beans as an accountant. He is stingy and totally uninteresting. Kay has been sleeping alone for over 15 years. Their separate bedrooms symbolize the huge emotional chasm between them. She desperately wants Arnold to notice her, connect with her and show that their 31 years of marriage will not continue on its swan dive. She tries to entice him at night, but he wants nothing to do with her. Still, Kay isn't quite ready to call it quits. Arnold has no idea that she is on the verge of doing so. She reads about a therapist (Steve Carell) who has his private practice in Great Hope Springs, Maine. This renowned doctor specializes in mending marriages. Of course, Arnold is dead set against going down with Kay, but he caves when he sees her getting into the taxi to take her to the airport She is in the plane which is about to take off, but guess who shows up? Arnold. The sessions with the doctor are painful. Arnold also waits until the final hour when after their 4-day therapy, she decides to leave him. Despite all the sexual techniques they tried to explore back in their hotel -- upon the cue from the doctor -- things are just so awkward between them. Arnold is so resistant, but we never really find out why; he is too afraid to open up. He is a man of patterns, so when his back went out years ago, he slept alone in his bedroom, and continued to do so. It's a case of them both having stagnated so long. The ending of the movie unites them wonderfully. Their vows are renewed at the beach in Maine. It seems the doctor was worth the $4,000 fee that Arnold balked at. Aide from the great acting, what I liked about this charmingly told story was not everything turned out well for them after they returned to their home. Arnold reverted to his old patterns, but Kay was ready to move on. We are relieved when in a moment. Arnold decides to knock on her bedroom door (This film was viewed compliments of Le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 rue Wellington, in Verdun, Quebec).

3.7 -- BEFORE MIDNIGHT, Richard Linklater
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The third (and final?) installment in writer/director Linklater’s impromptu trilogy of chance encounters and young love, picking up nine years after Céline (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) met up again in Paris. Now a real couple (albeit unmarried) with twin girls, the pair spend the summer vacationing in Greece, having lost none of their charming banter or effervescent chemistry; as they are now entering middle age, though, their once-naïve tones have gained a cynical edge. Thus, their repartee is now somewhat wicked and nasty as they discuss and debate life, work, family, sex and love. It’s a natural progression from the casual flirtations of "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset"’s recognition of true love, but no less enjoyable or romantic; in fact, there’s an argument to be made that this is the best of the series, carefully aged and matured and thus even more meaningful and substantive. Whatever the case, it’s a worthy culmination to one of the best (and most unlikely) film franchises of our time.

[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Pixar’s first prequel, set ten years before the events of "Monsters, Inc.", returns to the iconic scaring team of Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman), showing how the pair met and became the best of friends. As with all origin stories of this nature, the problem is that the audience already knows how it ends up, so drama is necessarily lacking. Pixar seems to recognize this fact, so instead of making the destination the key, focuses on the journey – and, more importantly, making it as funny as possible. The result is mostly positive: while the story isn’t the most original in the studio’s history (and seems oddly similar to "The Internship" of a couple weeks ago), the laughs are there in bunches, brought by an impressive voice cast that surrounds returning actors Crystal, Goodman, and Steve Buscemi with newcomers Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, and Nathan Fillion, amongst others. As far as Pixar goes, it’s sadly another instance of the studio’s gradual decline, but compared to other animated kid’s flicks, it’s perfectly fine.

2.7 -- WORLD WAR Z, Marc Forster
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] This adaptation of Max Brooks’ best-selling zombie novel resembles its source material only in a very basic sense, as the book’s anecdotal framework has been done away with in favour of a big-budget action spectacle. The reasons for this are obvious – talking isn’t nearly as cinematic as showing – and, for the most part, it’s not a big deal. The globe-trotting and zombie war aspects are still there, with a handful of locations – Philadelphia, South Korea, Jerusalem, and Cardiff – replacing the novel’s myriad settings. The problem, plainly, is the PG-13 rating, reducing the flesh-eating creatures to, quite literally, a featureless mass of bodies (the ‘zombie tsunami’ featured in the advertising isn’t quite as silly on the big-screen, but it’s still pretty ridiculous). Much has also been made of the rewritten and reshot third act – which becomes much more suspenseful and intimate than the rest of the film – but it actually mostly works; the real flaw is much broader.

2.8 -- THE BLING RING, Sofia Coppola
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Writer/director Coppola, well-known daughter of Francis Ford, returns again to familiar themes of fame and celebrity, but the candy-coloured visage of her latest is far from the existential ennui of "Lost in Translation" or "Somewhere." Based on a Vanity Fair article about a group of real-life teenagers who broke into celebrities’ houses while they were out of town or at awards shows, it’s a rather obvious commentary on our TMZ-addled times – and a rather toothless one at that. Coppola makes it clear that those teens stole clothing, jewelry and money not for the financial benefits (though they are shown reaping the rewards), but for the vain thrill of being inside a famous person’s home; however, she doesn’t have much more to say than that. That’s not to fault her talented young cast (including Hermione herself, Emma Watson, affecting an over-the-top Californian accent), who are impressively vapid and self-obsessed. Perhaps the cooperation of Paris Hilton, who makes a cameo and whose actual house was used in the filming, prevented Coppola from being more ruthless.

4.0 -- L'APPEL DE LA FORÊT, Pascal Sutra Fourcade
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A visual wonder with an important message! The director of this stunning documentary takes us on a journey into the astonishing forests of Madagascar, Cameroon, Eretria, Brazil and Australia. The great interviewer and lover of nature, Yann Arthus Bertrand, meets up with dedicated biologists, forest engineers and conservationists who have given up their lives to stop deforestation and innovate ways to make villages independent. We see how lemurs are responsible for spreading seeds in the jungle to promote growth. We learn that Cameroon is involved with the illegal exporting of wood to the port of Nantes in Brittany, and China. We behold the amazing calcified rock forests whose sharp pinnacles reach high into the sky of Madagascar. These lunar-like foundations are actually calcified fossils that date back millions of years. But this documentary is a story about heroic people, too. We meet Père Pedro who singlehandedly built a city for the poor in Madagascar, where most of the population lives in deprivation. Children follow him as if he were a pied piper. We meet a wonderful man who goes to schools and plays his guitar as he sings lyrics about nature and its value. The song is funny but its refrain is important. It says ants are as important as humans. In Brazil, one brave Portuguese anthropologist is in charge of protecting over 50 indigenous aboriginal tribes who have never seen the White Man. He goes into the forest and sets up camp near the pygmies. They come to him. The scene that follows is hilarious as we see how they act towards him and his team. In another scene we meet a rare Australian bird whose tail fans out over its head. It can produce over 100 sounds that imitate other birds. Two of the sounds resemble the closing clicking sound of a camera shutter and a police siren. Then w e hear another sound -- that of a bulldozer coming right into their habitat. Trees are precious, and for everyone cut down, our own lives are threatened. It's a fine balancing act; many poor villagers are being taught to preserve the forest, yet they need the wood for survival. I was most impressed by the Japanese American who began making mangrove forests in the water with the people of Eretria and planting tiny trees for these same people. It's all about food and community. Over and over again, we see villagers literally taking destiny into their own hands, shaping it in order to preserve their beloved and most magnificent forests that bless the world in a million ways. They are beautiful and we need them to survive, as this film so splendidly proves. (This film was viewed compliments of Le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington, Verdun, Quebec) .

2.2 -- WORLD WAR Z, Marc Forster
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] I did not like this film. The zombies were far too kinetic and they appeared in far too many shots that created overkill (pardon the pun). Typically Hollywood, the director went for shock value rather than for character and plot interest. Albeit, there were problems in getting the script finished by the same writer -- they had to call in another one -- and there were shooting set-backs. Still, these are mere trifles for a film whose budget was set at $125 million. It just goes to show that edgy writing talent does not really have a price tag. The plot is simple enough. The world has been overtaken by run-away zombies and Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a former UN top dog is called in to find a way to stop the pandemonium, as these baddies eat people. He travels to several places including Israel to find out how the country has effectively stopped the zombie invasion. It seems they have a built a wall (is there a political statement here?), but this wall also stops good guys who live on the other side of the wall from getting to safety. (Israel does not fare well in this film). Lane picks up a wounded Israeli female soldier after she gets bitten, and together they travel to Wales where a laboratory harvests deadly viruses. Lane has figured out that the zombies go after those who are healthy or not severely sick. He has to get into the room where these vials are under lock and key. The only problem is the section is filled with zombies. Still, he gets the stuff and does what he has to do to test out his theory. Somehow, we know how it's all going to end well, and he will be reunited with his family who has been sent to a refugee camp in Nova Scotia. One wonders if this movie was just a great excuse for Pitt to travel the world looking like a rugged save-the-world hero (who by the way can survive for days without eating drinking, sleeping or peeing).

2.4 -- THE LONE RANGER, Gore Verbinski
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] This long-gestating adaptation of the classic radio-serial-turned-TV-series finally hits the big screens, starring "The Social Network" breakout star Armie Hammer as the titular masked hero and chameleon thespian Johnny Depp as his Comanche sidekick Tonto. With the presence of Depp, director Verbinski, writers Ted Elliot + Terry Rossio, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Disney is obviously hoping for another "Pirates of the Caribbean"-style franchise; however, the Wild West setting is more restrictive and less generally appealing (read: too masculine) than pirate ships and tropical islands, limiting the box office potential of any possible film series. What’s more, it’s never as effortlessly entertaining as the first "Pirates" movie, unnecessarily complicating the plot with several layers of narrative structure and confusing chronology contortions. The chemistry between Depp and Hammer is the heart of the film, and keeps things grounded even amongst the high-wire stunts and overused digital effects, but it’s not compelling enough to make a great movie – or, more importantly for Disney, a franchise starter.

4.0 -- THE LONE RANGER, Gore Verbinski
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This is the best-made film I have ever seen! I loved it; I did not want it to end. The wit, the characters, the story the action -- so thrilling, so hilarious, so rich both in shtick and sophistication! Only genius spilling with the greatest imagination could conceive of and achieve -- shot after shot -- the cleverness and brilliance needed to make a film on par if not better than the classics. It will endure just like "Gone With The Wind." I can't rave enough about the sardonic brilliance of Johnny Depp. He has totally surpassed himself in this role. I think he related to the lonely life of the role he played and the plight of the Comache tribe which figures very strongly in this film and most favourably. In fact, the film without being preachy makes several moral messages about how stupid and greedy the white man is. The plot cleverly weaves, in non-chronological yet totally fluid and easy-to understand fashion, a story that is told by an aged Tonto (Johnny Depp) now standing behind glass in a museum talking to a young boy dressed as the Lone Ranger staring at the old Injun posing in front of the phony Wild West background. Tonto is totally ridiculous and wise at the same time. (Depp plays him masterfully). Tonto wears a bird on his head which he feeds, though it's dead. All the absurdity works in this film as does the terrific ensemble cast. Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger was a good foil to Tonto and that horse was a pretty good 'actor' too. As Tonto stands behind the glass telling the boy his story, the movie unfolds with superb alacrity and humour. There are fine philosophical comments made throughout the film by Tonto. They are proverbs not to be forgotten. I think this role was made for Depp. Interesting at the end of the film when the credits are rolling, we see Tonto dressed in the now very very shabby suit once worn by his Lone Ranger pal. Tonto is walking into the huge boulder-filled dessert -- briefcase in hand. Depp is making his own statement: This is what has become of the Comache tribe. The real-life news is Johnny Depp has been made an honorary member of the Comache Tribe. Look at the feather Depp always wears, and ask yourself if he is not indeed Tonto -- reincarnated.

3.9-- VU DU CIEL, David Perrier & Xavier Lefebvre
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Narrated with interviews in situ by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, this astonishing documentary, which begins in Argentina's Iguazu waterfall, shows the devastating effects of the world's great dams -- 50,000 of them -- the largest being the Three Gorges Dam in China. The narrator takes us to Argentina, China, Africa, France, the United States and Kazakhstan. The statistics are so depressing. Nothing escapes the toxicity created by hydro electric power: the annihilation of animals, displacing of entire populations (80 million living along the Yangtze region) and the drying up of their food supplies such as in Yacireta region in Argentina, thanks to its dam. The illness of all living creatures due to these dams leaves one speechless. The documentary travels also to France to chart the effects of PBCs traveling in the world (34,000 tons in France alone). Proof of land and water PBC poisoning, and the apathy of industry to do much about it enrage us all. The film shows us heroes who singlehandedly monitor and lobby against the modern world's destruction of our great rivers. From scientists and journalists to the small fisherman in Botswana's Delta of Okavange to the Hopi Indians fishing in Northern California, we hear testimony of the calamities caused by nearby dams. It shows us the consequences of reckless decisions and greed. The solutions promoting healthy bio-abundance are demonstrated in a vineyard in France, and the Verdon Gorge. It takes millions to correct our errors, but if Kazakhstan can take a river that dried up and make it flourish once again, so can the rest of the world. One of my favourite scenes was watching American native, Douglas Groves, President of the Foundation, 'Vivre avec les elephants' (Botswana) hang out 24/7 with his best free-roaming friend, an elephant. He teaches kids, who have never seen one, about their need to drink from the Delta, and how imperative it is to preserve water and protect the environment. Think about the death of our great rivers, and the domino effect. Ultimately our nemesis is coming in the form of our own demise caused by dams devoid of proper integration into the environment. And they can be. All I can say is DAM! (This film was viewed compliments of Le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 rue Wellington, in Verdun, Quebec).

1.9 -- BLACK GOLD: DAY OF THE FALCON, Jean-Jacques Annaud
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The Yellow Belt, a vast desert land in Arabia, has been fought over by two warring tribes for years. Finally, the two enemies, Emir Nesib (Antonio Banderas) and Sultan Amar (Mark Strong) make peace. But to guarantee the peace, Amar's two young sons are to be given over to Nesib. Amar agrees to do this on one condition: both leaders must promise never to fight again over the Yellow Belt. They both agree. However, Texas oil comes (1930s time) and makes Nesib an offer than he can't refuse. They show him the desert has oil, and he agrees to allow them to drill. This enrages Amar and he is intent on making war, but Nesib sends Auda back to his real father (Amar) to try to ask for peace. The solidifying of the two families through Auda's marriage to Nesib's daughter will surely help the tenuous situation. That is the hope of Nesib. Amar is extremely religious and backwards in the eyes of his son. He tries to persuade his father that oil would enrich his people and bring education and hospitals to everyone. The film has some philosophical overtones centering aroudn the theme of money versus spiritual beliefs. In the end, Auda actually ends up as leader and controller of The Yellow Belt, and now his adoptive father is under his rule. Amar is killed in a treacherous act that ushered in the final war scene. The film lacked intensity and one couldn't care who lived or dies. It felt like everyone was going through the actions, except the sarcastic half-brother of Auda who is a physician. He added humour, but he gets killed off. The film was no "Lawrence of Arabia," despite the fact this was the most expensive amount of money ever spent by an Arab production company on a film ($55 million US). It was shot in Tunisia and Qatar, and this certainly added visual interest, but other than that, the film was pedantic and almost laughable. (this film was viewed compliments of Le SuperClub Vidéotron, 5000 rue Wellington, Verdun, Quebec)

3.4 -- THE KINGS OF SUMMER, Jordan Vogt-Roberts
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Three adolescent boys, fed up with their overbearing parents and thirsting for more independence, run away to the woods and spend the summer building a livable house in this hilarious and heartfelt indie film. Despite boasting all the clichéd hallmarks of the form – indie rock soundtrack, too-cool-for-school dialogue, and plenty of filmmaking tricks and treats – it somehow just works, surprisingly and enjoyably so. The cast, an eclectic mix of virtual unknowns and television actors (including Parks & Recreation’s standout Nick Offerman) is note-perfect, and the material, moralizing and mainstream as it is, feels natural and genuine, lightened by the off-beat humour. It’s not a terribly innovative or even memorable film, but it does what it sets out to do exceedingly well, making this one of the best films of the year thus far.

2.7 -- THE LESSER BLESSED, Anita Doron
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A remote town in the Northwest Territories is the setting for this First Nations coming-of-age tale, focusing on Larry Sole, a Dogrib teenager experiencing sex, drugs, and identity issues in the Great White North. Benjamin Bratt (himself the son of a Peruvian Quechua Indian) co-stars as Larry’s surrogate father Jed and lends this small Canadian flick some Hollywood heft, sorely needed amongst the cast of unknowns and non-professionals. Director Doron can’t help indulging in the worst of high school clichés – promiscuous, drug-addled teens with no purpose or direction – but mostly keeps things interesting, getting the most out of the conventional narrative (based on a 1996 novel by Richard Van Camp) and archetypal characters. Newcomer Joel Evans isn’t very charismatic or engaging in the lead role, but he’s not so terrible as to ruin the whole thing, which, as far as English Canadian cinema goes these days, isn’t bad.

3.1 -- MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Joss Whedon
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Fresh off the billion dollar success of "The Avengers," writer/director Whedon switches gears and takes on a polar opposite project, helming this low-budget, black-and-white adaptation of one of The Bard’s funniest comedies. Taking his usual band of merry men and women along for the ride (including Nathan Fillion, Fran Kranz, and Amy Acker) and filming in his own SoCal house during a break in the lengthy post-production of the aforementioned superhero blockbuster, Whedon strips the play of all period excesses, setting it in a modern sun-kissed villa with all-night parties and replacing gaudy costumes with simple black suits and cocktail dresses. It’s a refreshing approach, breathing new life into Shakespeare’s witty tale of dueling lovers and political commentary, and allows Whedon to stay cult relevant despite directing one of the biggest films of all time.

3.5-- THE LAST STAND, Kim-Jee-Woon
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] I enjoyed this film. It's a modern-day Western that pits Sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) against a gang of drug cartel front men who work for kingpin Gabriel Cortez. He's managed to escape the FBI during his transportation to another penitentiary. The escape was dynamic to watch. During this escape, Cortez captures an FBI agent who in fact is working to help him towards freedom. She is not what she seems, but we don't find that out until the end of the film. The irony was rather biting. Cortez puts her in his swanky batmobile-like car and off they go -- in this incredible car that can speed up to1000 miles per hour. He's sure he's on his way to freedom in Mexico, but first he has to deal with the folks living in Sommerton Junction -- the small one-street border town in Arizona which happens to be headed by old-timer Sheriff Owens. That's the border town that leads to the small bridge, built by his gang. Mexico lies on the other side. Through a series of totally ingenious ways, Cortez's front men are dealt with by the local town folk and the few deputies on hand once they land in the town. They are all eliminated, and the film does it with suspense, irony, even humour. The final battle takes place on the bridge leading to Mexico, but can Cortez cross it on foot with Owens striding across it too? The last fight is great, and the car chase in the corn field that leads to the bridge was truly an original. In fact, almost every scene was a Hollywood winner. Forest Whitaker stars as the FBI chief; Johnny Knoxville adds great comic relief as the local town gun collector. Everyone gets in on the action. The plot, humour and acting are first class. Schwarzenegger as the ageing sheriff proves he's still got a lot of grit and fight left in him. I think Arny has found his new calling in life -- from Governor of California to small-town Sheriff; he even says it in the film: "This is my home." (This film was viewed, compliments of SuperClub Vidéotron, 5000 rue Wellington in Montreal, Quebec).

2.3 -- 4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH, Abel Ferrara
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The world is coming to an end. Cisco (Willen Defoe) and Sky (Shayn Leigh) cope with this impending doom by making love, meditating and dancing. Cisco is a troubled, unfulfilled man, who as we discover later, has a daughter whom he skypes. He loves her dearly, and begins to cry in front of her when he skypes her. He misses her and wants to be with her, but he can't. His ex-wife suddenly gets on the screen and berates him for crying in front of their daughter. They begin to fight -- each accusing the other for having caused the end of their marriage. It appears the wife lost patience and left him. We find out that Cisco was a cocaine addict. It ruined their marriage. When Sky sees him talking to his ex during the skyping, she erupts in a tirade of anger; she tries to close the computer. They fight. Cisco leaves and enters a high-rise apartment through its window. His brother lives in the apartment, and is shocked to find Cisco standing in front of him, but very happy. He hasn't seen his brother in a long time. The apartment has a few people sitting around the table; there's cocaine on it. Cisco steals some without anyone noticing. After he returns home, he retreats to the bathroom. He is about to use it when Sky catches him. They then fall in each others' arms on the painting she has been creating throughout most of the movie. It is a huge abstract, and the canvas lies on the floor. It is really a messy mix of colours. During most of the film, the TV is on, and we see taped dialogues with the Dalai Lama talking; we also see the great philosopher Joseph Campbell talking, and Charlie Rose talking to Al Gore. They all are saying the same thing: we are the protectors, but without that ideal, we will perish. Lots of shots in the film show how different cultures are coping with the catastrophe. It seems that the ozone layer is depleted, and everyone will be killed when a comet collides with Earth. Unfortunately, the film takes place in the big dark loft of Cisco's, and so the depressing mood remains dour. There is virtually no action, no riveting dialogue, and nothing to save us and this film from grace. In fact, one hopes the ending is nigh, as this 'narcoleptic' film threatens to send the jaded viewer into a deep sleep. (This film was viewed, compliments of Le SuperClub Vidéotron, 5000, rue Wellington in Montreal, Quebec).

3.9 -- HANNAH ARENDT, Margarethe von Trotta
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This highly important film presents the great thinker and writer Hannah Arendt at a pivotal point in her life. When this Jewish professor who fled Nazi Germany in 1933 hears that Eichmann has been kidnapped by the Israeli Secret Service, she is determined to report on the trial which began in April in 1961. Her articles are published in the New Yorker in six issues, but the reaction by the Jews around the world is intensely angry, and Arendt is ostracized by all -- even her closest friends. Still Mary McCarthy -- her dearest ally defends her. What has caused such anger? Arendt was the first person to look at the man on trial and analyze him using a cerebral approach; she argued Eichmann was merely a bureaucrat, "a nobody" who could not think for himself -- that he was simply, a very ordinary, banal human being. Worst still, she claimed that the Jews who cooperated with the Nazis in their various communities committed a worse sin than those perpetrated by Eichmann who was in charge of sending Jews to the gas chamber. It was this latter claim that resonated with such discord that Jews sent her thousands of hate letters, and she was told to resign as professor at the New School in New York. So, she decided to explain her ideas in the "Eichmann in Jerusalem -- A Report on the Banality of Evil." This brilliant woman was naïve. She approached it all from an analytical standpoint -- without passion or empathy for the Jews. In asking the question, what constitutes evil, she concluded that evil stems from non-thinking (banal) humans, a conclusion that was self-evident to her but incomprehensible to the rest of the world. Still, the documentary shows that she stuck to her principles, believing that only through facing up to the pure facts can such future horrors be avoided. She was the first to exclude her personal anger and emotions toward Eichmann (an exterminator) in order to bring to light the fact that non-thinking humans living a banal existence are more likely to be enlisted to execute these horrific crimes than people who can think for themselves. "I always want to understand, never to judge:" that was her stated goal.

She decided to put the man on trial, not the entire events of Shoa. The word 'psychopath' is never used. In my opinion, had she also incorporated this word into her analysis, perhaps she might have also explained how lack of empathy in humans -- not just the lack of thinking can lie at the source of such atrocities. This film wonderfully splices archival black and white clips from Eichmann's trial into scenes which show Arendt being present at the trial and her reactions to what she hears and sees. The film most importantly, details this great thinker's life within the context of her marriage, her close friends, and the affair she had with Professor Martin Heidegger, one of Germany's most prominent philosophers in the early 20th century. That affair happened when she was a student, but their relationship held onto her death, even after he briefly joined the Nazi party in 1933. A complex woman, she, herself experienced the claws of Nazism, but she refused to succumb to the fear, tragedies and exile she endured. She concluded that love and self-determination are man's salvation. She was a great crusader for women seeking to express their brilliance -- that women must be permitted to "think without banisters."

The cast was superb; every character was interesting. The intellectual caliber of dialogue was passionate and entertaining. Barabara Sukowa as Arendt was amazing to watch. She was credible beyond words. The film was in German and English, and the interplay between the two languages in the scenes was well done; we were able to 'be let in on' the conversations taking place. This biopic was made with great subtlety. The events and controversial topics made me want to discuss the subject with everyone who filed out after the screening.

3.8 -- NO PLACE ON EARTH, Janet Tobias
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] When the Germans hit villages in the Ukraine to exterminate Jews, a few incredibly resourceful families retreated into caves. One cave was called Verteba -- the other Priest's Grott. Its access was 70 feet down a narrow ladder inside a rusty corrugated steel tube. For over 500 days, they endured little food, cold and humidity and darkness. Unfortunately, a so-called trusty villager caught them trying to get food, and reported them to the police. They then had to go into the far more dangerous Priest's Cave. You can't believe the unendurable resilience of these families: the Stermers and the Dodyk's whose story is told through both octogenarian brothers. The documentary begins with Chris Nicola -- an avid caver, and it was on one of his caving expeditions that he came across evidence of beings having occupied and lived in the two caves. He sees a child's shoe, a comb and metal wares. He set out to find answers, and this is how this riveting black and white film came about. The film uses children who aren't actors to play all the people hiding in these caves. They were great. The film ends with the grandchildren of these families traveling with their grandfathers to the Ukarine in order to to descend into the caves to experience what their families lived through. It was amazing that Nicola was able to find Sam and Saul Stermer -- the latter who settled in Montreal and founded a successful construction company. At the age of 92, he still goes to work everyday where he shares the helm with his nephew Nissel. Sam also lives in Montreal. Sam is so engaging as he retellsl the horrific story. He manages to find humour in everything he says with Jewish wit and wonder. The will to live comes to life in this triumphant story where truth is stranger and more frightful than any work of fiction.

3.7 -- SKYFALL, Sam Mendes
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This is the best Bond film ever. Fifty films have been made and this one features my almost favourite 007, Daniel Craig -- just a shave away from my true favourite -- Sean Connery. This really interesting Bond movie steps things up into ultra-modern times. Javier Bardem plays a cruel ex-agent who has gone rogue. He is after M. (Judy Dench). It seems she turned him over in exchange for five agents held by some bad guys. Ex-agent Silver is wreaking havoc with his wizard abilities to hack into top secret files that contain all Nato agents' names and whereabouts. They are working in terrorist countries.

The gritty film starts with Bond chasing one of the guys who works for Silver. He forces Bond into a chase that to my mind is the most believable of all the introductions that usually start with some kind of chase. In "Skyfall," he chases an operative who has stolen the files to bring them to Silver. The chase takes on all kinds of exciting suspense. This action segment puts a capital P on the word 'pursuit:' James tries to catch this operative in several ways. There's a highly taut car chase scene, but things get even racier: an elevator with James hanging on its bottom as it ascends 50 floors; a motorcycle chase that takes both of these men on the rooftops of Istanbul. How original! Gone are the typical props that most Bond films offer. He does get the guy and that scene involves a glass, psychedelic office that is totally cool to see. While this is going on, Bond's in a jeep following and trying to assist James. She is ordered by M to shoot as James struggles with this bad guy atop the train. She shoots James and he ends up falling into dangerous waters. He's taken for dead. Back in London, things are really heating up. As Mr. Silver targets M's computer and shows that he has already killed five of her agents and the following week, there will be five more. M is asked to resign for calling the 'shot' which caused James death. But she refuses, too. In her home, she receives an unexpected guest; it's Bond looking drunk and disheveled. M does not show her relief. Instead, she makes Bond go through debriefing which involves physical and mental tests. Unbeknownst to Bond, he fails, but she tells him and her superior that he is ready to go back and serve his country. This film makes many statements about old ways that endure and are as effective as all the flashy new tactics and tools used in these modern times. The film takes us back to Bond's old house in Scotland where he reunites with his dear in-house master (Albert Finney). Silver is eventually caught, but he escapes and tracks down Bond and M in the house. Without giving away the ending, suffice it to say, that it is the most realistic and therefore moving Bond to hit the screen. In this film, Bond does not win the day, but a new chapter is about to open up for him and all the staff in the London office.

The settings offered in this film were sensational. We were taken to Istanbul, Macau, Scotland and London. The film has class, credibility and for the first time, takes us further into Bond's pre-agent life, and we see the man letting M into a bit of the personal picture. Mendes is a great director, who obviously knows how to make a Bond film that is current and rather philosophical. In other words, Adele was not the only star in this masterfully crafted film. (The film was viewed, compliments of Vidéotron le Superclub, 5000 Wellington, Verdun, Montreal).

3.2 -- THE ANGELS’ SHARE, Ken Loach
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A surprisingly sweet and funny Scottish flick, focusing on a group of ex-cons in Glasgow forced to do community service. When they partake in a whisky distillery tour and tasting as part of their rehabilitation, they hatch a plan to steal some of the world’s most rare (and valuable) whisky from an upcoming auction, potentially changing their lives forever. Director Loach, best known for his depressing, working-class, social realist dramas, keeps things relatively light this time around, with plenty of comedy to spare and some good-natured political commentary. The result is an enjoyable mix of slapstick and satire, neither too ridiculous to be laughed off nor too serious to be ignored. This blend of styles is part of the reason it won the Jury Prize for third place at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, ahead of much more austere titles; it’s just simply an entertaining and thought-provoking flick.

1.8 -- ERASED, Philipp Stölzl
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Aaron Eckhart headlines this low-rent Bourne rip-off, playing an ex-CIA agent who goes on the run with his daughter after the Belgian company he thought he worked for disappears without a trace. What follows is a series of derivative action scenes, convoluted plot turns, and forced character development between Eckhart’s deadbeat dad and his estranged teenage daughter, leading to a rather dull climax. By the time the (supposedly) explosive ending rolls around, hardly anything has been explained, and director Stölzl seemingly thought (or hoped) that the satisfying payoff would overcome any narrative shortcomings. Instead, it’s incomprehensible and frustrating, better suited for a direct-to-DVD release – even boasting a name change from the international title, the even-more-generic "The Expatriate" – than a cinematic showing.

2.3 -- NOW YOU SEE ME, Louis Leterrier
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A team of magicians (led by sleight-of-hand artist Jesse Eisenberg and mentalist Woody Harrelson) are brought in for questioning by the FBI after an impressive illusion in which they rob a Parisian bank and shower their Vegas audience with the stolen cash – all without ever leaving the stage. This leads to a series of escalating tricks designed to give money back to their crowds, all the while evading pursuing agent Mark Ruffalo and Interpol officer Mélanie Laurent. Director Leterrier clearly wants to elicit a post-recession feeling of magic Robin Hoods and cathartic bank robbing, but his approach is too much flash and not enough substance. Shallow attempts to make some sort of meaningful commentary on the power of magic and a final twist that is both easily guessed and totally nonsensical add nothing to the piece, so all we’re left with is an empty hat with no rabbit to be pulled out.

2.8 -- AFTER EARTH, M. Night Shyamalan
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Father and son A-listers Will and Jaden Smith team up for this sci-fi adventure set a thousand years in the future, where the Earth has been abandoned and left to the wolves. When the pair crash-land on the quarantined planet, Jaden must trek across dangerous terrain to signal for help while an injured Will guides him, battling both the evolved species left behind and a lethal alien creature that escaped in the crash. Fallen-from-grace filmmaker Shyamalan, out of his comfort zone and clearly a director-for-hire, hasn’t lost his soft editing touch or his eye for striking compositions, but he can only do so much with a ridiculous story riddled with the Smiths’ Scientologist beliefs. It doesn’t help that Jaden is no movie star, no matter how much his father pushes him, and resting the bulk of the film on his shoulders is far too much for the teenager to take. It’s still an enjoyable, intriguing adventure romp, but it could’ve been something much more.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Changez (Riz Ahmed) is a prodigious student who completes his Bachelors in Finance at Princeton University and joins Underwood Samson, a consultancy firm, as an analyst. He stands apart from the other executives with his brilliant strategies of evaluating companies: how to either save or dissolve them. The word 'fundamentals' is key in the company as the modus operandi: they assess the value of the client by using fundamentals -- getting to the heart of the problem. Changez totally embraces the concept, the America's corporate power ladder, his boss (Keifer Sutherland), and his new lady, Erica (Kate Hudson), a photographer. They fall in love, but she can't commit because she is still mourning the loss of her boyfriend -- killed in a car accident while she was driving under the influence. The film actually opens up in mayhem with the kidnapping of a professor in Lahore Pakistan and a reporter named Bobby (Lib Schreiber) trying to find out if Changez knows the whereabouts of this professor who is a dear friend to Bobby, who is working with the CIA, as was the professor. Note that the entire movie is basically a flashback as Changez sits in a hideout café talking with Bobby while the latter is taping him. When 9/11 happens, Changez and his colleagues are returning from Manila, and in the airport, he is racially targeted. They strip search him. It is utterly humiliating. Then, his car tires get slashed in the parking lot at night. Comments about him growing a beard circulate in the office. When Changez goes to Erica's photography show, he sees his photo and reads lines using the word 'Pakistani' that Erica has superimposed on her art along with voice over messages saying "I had a Pakistani once." He is outraged, and Erica is at a loss to know why. This along with his visit to a Turkish publishing house which he is supposed to dissolve -- and doesn't want to -- after all, they published the poems of his father -- compels him to take a good look at his life, and his American values. He rejects them, and returns to Pakistan. He gets a job at the university where the professor worked. He is asked to fight with a cell group, and listens to what the leader has to say to woo him, but when he hears the world 'fundamental beliefs,' he balks. Changez is not interested in reducing people or systems or values to fundamentals. He just wants peace. Things get out of hand during the meeting with Bobby, as the American forces are pulling in suspicious students, and Changez's family is being harassed as well. The movie ends with a plea for peace on all sides. The word' fundamental' is used in every sense in this movie. It is a fine story that shows so many sides to the twains that shall never merge in peace. It also shows how Pakistan was being used as a pawn by the Americans who in this film are 'fundamentally' xenophobic. The film was based on the book by Mohsin Hamid which was published in 2007. I want to read it.

2.4 -- LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED, Susanne Bier
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Danish director Bier, perhaps best known as the filmmaker behind the overwrought (and Oscar-winning) "In a Better World," helms this light-hearted romcom starring Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm as, respectively, the father of the groom and the mother of the bride at an ill-fated Italian wedding. He’s a widower who’s never quite gotten over his wife’s accidental death; she’s a hairdresser having recently undergone chemotherapy for breast cancer (the original Danish title, "The Bald Hairdresser," both references this and is vastly more interesting than the generic English title); of course, they inevitably fall for each other. But instead of something like "The Big Wedding," a similarly-themed Hollywood production, the humour is far cleverer, the themes better-handled, and the overall message much more mature. Though Bier still has problems with heavy-handedness (a few caricatured characters are testaments to this), she shows far more deftness here than on her previous hamfisted effort.

3.6 -- THE HUNT, Thomas Vinterberg
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Former Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen won the Best Actor Award at Cannes last year for this slow-burn Danish drama, playing a kindergarten teacher falsely accused of child molestation by one of his students. As the small Scandinavian town slowly turns against him, Mads’ character Lucas gradually transforms from a gentle, mild-mannered man into a violent, tortured individual undone by forces beyond his control. Director Vinterberg, best known for co-founding the neo-realist Dogme95 movement with Lars Von Trier, depicts Lucas’ tragic metamorphosis in a non-stylized and down-to-earth manner, managing to elicit strong emotions without overtly demonizing any characters. They are all simply human, not evil or monstrous, and it is downright chilling to witness the plain destruction of one man’s life due to a single lie. Heartwrenching, infuriating and ultimately thought-provoking, this film shows, with great passion, that sometimes the smallest acts have the furthest-reaching consequences.

3.2 -- MUD, Jeff Nichols
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Matthew McConaughey continues his recent career renaissance by starring in this Arkansas-set coming-of-age drama as the titular character, an outlaw who enlists the help of two teenage boys while he hides from pursuing bounty hunters on a small island in the Mississippi River. As Mud forms a sort of fatherly bond with the two boys, issues of fatherhood, masculinity and adolescence are dredged up from the depths of the river, making for a truly weighty affair. Director Nichols, a filmmaker in the David Gordon Green-mould of Terrence Malick emulators, takes a magical realist approach with his setting, characters and dialogue (much like Gordon Green’s "Undertow"), but adds a cynical spin on things, positioning all of Mud’s fantastical tales as (possibly) merely bullshit from the mouth of a criminal. Though the South retains a certain kind of mystical charm, Nichols questions it, utilizing McConaughey’s natural charisma to poke holes in the mythical value of the region. "Mud", therefore, is exactly that: a murky, heavy, and grimy mix of truth and legend, fact and fiction, water and dirt.

[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The much-anticipated sequel to 2009’s sci-fi reboot finally arrives, boasting awe-inspiring special effects and a brand new adventure for the up-and-coming Enterprise crew to embark upon. Like all good franchise follow-ups -- especially these days -- this installment darkens the tone considerably (hence the title), utilizing a mysterious villain (played by Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch) and a series of homegrown terrorist attacks for Kirk, Spock, et al. to contend with, rather than a warring alien race or incomprehensible force of nature. But despite the obvious desire to seem epic and topical, it’s never as effortlessly fun and entertaining as its predecessor, feeling less like a breeze and more like a strong gust. Director Abrams’ (who soon will be moving onto "Star Wars") compositions are as crisp and clean as ever -- thankfully, with fewer lens flares this time around -- and his eye-catching visuals are once again the highlight. But for a series that claims to be rebooting things anew, it’s tied down an awful lot to the original canon, revealing the ever-thinning line between reboot and simple remake.

2.1 -- THE ICEMAN, Ariel Vromen
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The infamous life story of notorious Mafia hitman Richard Kuklinski is chronicled in this period crime drama, starring Michael Shannon as the hulking killer, Winona Ryder as his unassuming wife, and ever-sleazy Ray Liotta as his mob boss Roy DeMeo. Spanning roughly twenty years in Kuklinski’s life, from his first murder to his final arrest, the narrative contrasts his horrific career with his relatively stable home life, where his wife and two daughters knew nothing about his homicidal ways. Director Vromen covers Kuklinski’s story by seamlessly weaving together different periods in his life, with only a few expository lines of text at the beginning to establish context; however, the effect is more confusing than compelling, as only Shannon’s changing cranial and facial hair clues us in to when a certain scene is taking place. The result is a convoluted, yet still clichéd, crime story, with all the usual trademarks of this kind of film and very little of the payoff. Shannon’s menacing performance notwithstanding, this is a plainly dull work.

3.4 -- THE ICEMAN, Ariel Vroman
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) is a projectionist for porn films. He hides this from his wife (Winona Rider), along with the fact that he kills for a living any person assigned to him by a Mafia boss. The Mafia boss in fact owns the porn theatre, and more or less gives Kuklinski no out but to join forces with the mob. This film is based on a true story that boggles the mind. Kuklinski is a man with nerves of steel that melt at the sight of his family whom he protects at all costs. The acting ensemble is superb. I didn't want this film to end, but I certainly wanted the killing to stop.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A ridiculous film shot in a hallway of an apartment building whose tenants want to find out if the tap water really is contaminated. The rumour starts with one girl yelling and babbling away as she sits crouched in the building's narrow hallway. Her husband tells her to calm down, but he is as hyper as she is. They find out through the superintendent that the water is perfectly fine. I think this film is a spoof, even a comment on the paranoia about drinking water -- that can sweep through a dwelling in the Ivory Coast. This film is an embarrassment to serious filmmakers from this country. This film was screened at Montreal's 2013 Vue d'Afrique Film Festival.

3.2 -- MOI ZAPHIRA, Apolline Traore
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This unique story really works; It is entertaining, quirky yet acceptably authentic. Zaphira lives in village of poor huts and dirt floors. The men are lazy, but she aspires to improve her life through her own daughter whom she wants her to become a model. Zaphira does anything to earn money, and even though her little daughter becomes gravely ill, she tries out prostitution but can't go through with her first trick. The client is actually a fine fellow and gives her medicine to buy for her daughter. Zaphira orders new clothes for her daughter and brand name makeup she sees models wearing in the magazines her brother-in-law sends to her -- upon her request. Zaphira is a widow who ends up disguising herself to work in a gold mine to earn money. One day she puts makeup on her little girl and sends her to school in high heels. This ostracizes her even more. But Zaphira is a mother on a mission and nothing can derail her -- not even the man who adores her, and ends up taking her daughter to Euorpe to become a successful model. Ten years later, the movie's final scene plays out. Her daughter has come to the village in an Africa model show. Now a beautiful woman with a sad face, she rejects her mother who is knocking on her stage dressing room door. Her daughter opens the door and then slams it in her mother's face. Zaphira's village has improved a lot and so has Zaphira's life, but she paid a price for it; she lost her daughter who never wanted to be a model in the first place. Shot in black and white in Burkina Faso, one wonders if this movie is about a mother with a bad case of pushy stage mom, or is about a highly independent woman who accepts rejection from everyone to follow the dream she has for her daughter whom she deeply loves. I think it's both. The film is funny and the characters in it are memorable. This film was screened at Montreal's 2013 Vue d'Afrique Film Festival.

2.9 -- POST 911: PEUR, COLERE ET POLITQUE, Nadia Zouaoui
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This documentary offers the premise that America is actively anti-Muslim -- that this massive hatred lies not just in the general populace, but that various government organizations have implemented a spy system that allows for false accusations in order to arrest Muslims who may have known real terrorists. The film follows a man who was arrested at an American airport for wearing a T-shirt that said, 'we won't be silenced;' it was written both in English and Arabic. The film also tells the plight of a girl who was arrested for having been named by a girl as being a terrorist. A mother's son diagnosed with being mentally slow was also arrested. He is now serving 30 years in prison, and yet his guilt has never been proven. It was guilt by association. A league of powerful people have formed an anti-Muslim group whose main focus was the prevention of building a Muslim centre near Ground Zero. The film is compelling but the bias is a bit over the top. What angers me is that among the Muslims who appeared in this film -- with brazen outrage towards America's supposed attitude of fear and loathing towards Muslims -- there was no mention of the monstrous people and shame brought on other Muslims for the 9/11 terrorist act. The director ought to have scouted out Muslims who voiced their outrage not only towards the hatred they think Americans feel towards them, but also some kind of apology and anger for what happened and that they wholeheartedly condemn the act, and want to find any culprits involved in the ongoing violence. If Muslims wish to show the world that their religion is a quiet, peaceful one, why has there never been a group formed to protest these acts? I think that the film would have been more balanced in view had the director been ale to show such groups -- but maybe they don't even exist. If they do, they remain in the shadows. This film was screened at Montreal's 2013 Vue d'Afrique Film Festival.

3.7 -- RAYONS D'ESPOIR, Catherine Mullins
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Seven years have gone by since the director last filmed two specific families of children whose parents died from AIDS. Both Zambian families consist of young teens who care for the siblings. We see how each member struggles to find their way. Shots of poverty tear at your heart. Ms. Mullins has been visiting the two families, helping them in any way she can. She has been there seven times. A moving film that details he struggle to survive. This film was screened at Montreal's 2013 Vue d'Afrique Film Festival.

2.9 -- COUSCOUS COMEDY SHOW, Nadia Zouaoui
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A very funny couscous chef uses humour to reveal that immigrants get a bum deal living in Quebec. He uses humour and runs a comedy club to break the xenophobic ice. He's a crazy guy who taps into immigrants' plight. This film was screened at Montreal's 2013 Vue d'Afrique Film Festival.

1.9 -- DOUDÉDJI, Senan Evelyne Hessou
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Cassi, an eight-year-old boy can't walk. He can only crawl. He's a gifted drawer of people. He desperately wants to go to school, and so one day, against his parents wishes, he goes because the teacher has convinced the parents he must attend. This film covers two times in Cassi's life -- as a young boy and as a revered artist being interviewed on TV. He states that no handicap can stop talent and capability. A low budget film with a good message. This film was screened at Montreal's 2013 Vue d'Afrique Film Festival.

2.8 -- LAND RUSH, Osvalde Lewat
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] One man is displacing virtually all the farmers in Mali who make up three-quarters of the population. He is constructing a huge agricultural plant. People are losing their land, family and even sites where family members are buried. The coup in 2012 in Mail put everything on hold, and so this man sets up shop in Niger. All the money the Mali government and the bankers put into his project is a tragic waste as is the idea behind the enterprise. This film was screened at Montreal's 2013 Vue d'Afrique Film Festival.

2.3 -- SOUP A PYÉ, Karine Gama
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] An old woman is preparing a great number of delicious dishes in her Guadeloupe home. Great detail is given to her dishes arrangement and fancy setting of the table. The phone rings and her daughter seems to be telling her that there's a mix-up of date for this dinner gathering. Then her son calls, but she is outside, and he says at the end of the phone he can't come due to a headache. The scene then shows lots of family at her table eating with her at this dinner gathering. Then we see her eating all alone and none of the other dishes on the table have been consumed. It seems the date was wrong after all or . . . Who knows? It's a well-made film until everybody arrives, and then it gets silly. The point to this film eluded me. This film was screened at Montreal's 2013 Vue d'Afrique Film Festival.

1.3 -- DEL CAFETAL DE LA TUMBA FRANCESA, Jean-François Chalut
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Many Haitians, French and slaves migrated to the Oriental region of Cuba. They worked on café plantations during the mid 19th-centurey. The dance shown in the film is a poor man's interpretation of Versaille's courtly dances. This entire film is a total academic bore, but some of the scenery was nice. The dance and clips went on far too long. It was a pictorial history that earned a big yawn. This film was screened at Montreal's 2013 Vue d'Afrique Film Festival.

1.2 -- LYIZA, Radu Juster
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A bare bones piece of fiction that tells the story of a teacher and her class trying to cope and deal with the Rwandan genocide. The father of one of the students had actually murdered Lyiza's parents. Lyiza is also a student. Nothing of drama or passion or believability happens in this film. It plays out like a grade eight high school play -- a tragedy considering the horror endured and the aftermath of it all. This film was screened at Montreal's 2013 Vue d'Afrique Film Festival.

2.2 -- HAITI: LE SEISME, Radu Juster
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Various Haitians speak about their adaptation to Montreal after they leave their beloved country. Some like it fine; others miss the warmth of their own people and the unbreakable bond of community. This film is static and would be better on some TV news program. There was very little insight offered in this documentary.
This film was screened at Montreal's 2013 Vue d'Afrique Film Festival.

1.7 -- UPSIDE DOWN, Juan Solanas
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Writer/director Solanas, son of revolutionary Argentine filmmaker Fernando (best known for "The Hour of the Furnaces"), helms this high-concept, politically charged sci-fi romance set in a twin-planet system, where the two worlds’ gravity oppose each other. The two planets are further delineated along class lines, with the prosperous citizens of “Up” holding sway over the slum-dwelling residents of “Down;” this obvious societal metaphor harks back to "Metropolis" and the early days of cinema, albeit with much less subtlety and nuance. As if this heavy-handed analogy wasn’t enough, a star-crossed romance is thrown into the mix, involving the cleverly named Adam (a Down-dweller) and Eden (an Up-citizen) falling in love and threatening their two worlds’ very existence. It’s all very plain and boring, as Solanas shows little of his father’s incendiary nature and avant-garde talent. Impressive visuals aside, it’s merely a grouping of half-baked ideas from someone who apparently has seen "Inception" far too many times.

1.3 -- THE BIG WEDDING , Justin Zackham
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A star-studded cast (including Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, and Susan Sarandon) headlines this broadly funny matrimonial comedy, involving a series of ridiculous misunderstandings and even more unlikely revelations. The ensemble of above-the-title names are both the film’s main selling point and the only reason to attend, as writer/director Zackham has little idea how to stage a comedic scene and ultimately ends up sucking most of the humour out of the film. That it ends up with as many laughs as it does is mostly due to the game performances of its leads, especially Robin Williams as an alcoholic priest and Topher Grace as the virginal older brother of the groom. The narrative is far too tangled and confusing to explain in a single sentence, but suffice it to say that notions of (in)fidelity, incest, religion, and true love are all broached, albeit not always explicitly dealt with. But that is the hallmark of the modern Hollywood comedy -- lots of topics, with little time to discuss them.

2.4 -- PAIN & GAIN, Michael Mackie
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Incredible to believe, but this very very black comedy is a based on a very very true story that took place in 1995. It centers on Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), a pumped up trainer who works at Sun Gym in Miami. He wants to be as rich as some of his clients, and he's prepared to kidnap one of them. Victor Kershaw (Toney Shalhoub) - a rich Jewish man who is himself of questionable character. To do the job, he recruits Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) an ex-con turned Jesus freak, and his own gym colleague and very close friend Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie). They mean business except for Paul Doyle who wants to convert Victor, and even befriends him while the victim is chained to a chair and getting beaten up bad. They attempt to kill him in various ways once he signs over all his possessions and money to Lugo. But he doesn't die, and this is where the hunt for the three men begins - led by retired ex-cop Ed Du Bos (Ed Harris). The movie is funny, violent and fast paced. Some scenes come with supers flashed at the bottom of the screen that make comments on the characters and actions. The movie also introduces each character's voice over as they express their own thoughts. The acting trio was perfect. There was comic relief in the film from these characters, but their diabolical greed and depravity sealed their fate. Well cast, Mark Wahlberg was superb as the demented, hyper villain, Dwayne Johnson as Doyle was a big bear of minimal intelligence. The contrast of his muscled up body size and pee-wee brain size was laughable. Tony Shalhoub was so funny. A great cast in a film where the absurd becomes reality.

2.5 -- THE SAPPHIRES, Wayne Blair
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A based-on-a-true-story account of an all-Aboriginal female singing group founded in 1968 to entertain the troops in Vietnam, this feel-good Aussie flick sacrifices factual accuracy in favour of heartwarming entertainment, with a side of moralizing political commentary. Issues of race and gender are easily invoked, but hardly dealt with in a serious manner, betraying the film’s shallow approach to its subject matter; however, that’s not to say that the film is without merit -- it’s merely lighter than it pretends to be. No cinematic element exemplifies this more than the presence of Irish funnyman Chris O’Dowd (of Bridesmaids fame) as the group’s manager Dave Lovelace -- a character, interestingly enough, created simply for the purposes of the film. O’Dowd’s 21st century nature and off-the-wall humour seem at odds with the late ‘60s vibe that surrounds him, speaking to director Blair’s true concern with the material: as long as it’s entertaining, it doesn’t matter if it’s true.

3.4 -- THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, Derek Cianfrance
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] "Blue Valentine" director Cianfrance reteams with his leading man Ryan Gosling for this ambitious, generation-spanning tale of modern cops ‘n’ robbers. Clocking in at almost two-and-a-half hours, and utilizing no less than four male protagonists (including Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and up-and-comer Dane DeHaan), it is an epic, sweeping affair, made even more impressive by the fact that it all takes place within the modest city of Schenectady, New York (with the English meaning of its Mohawk-derived name inspiring the clunky title). Covering themes as weighty and broad as fatherhood, inheritance and destiny, it is an über-serious affair, displaying with great detail the ripple effect that one small action can have on a great many lives. In a way, this far-reaching story is merely microcosm of the grand narrative of the universe -- as pretentious as that sounds. But Cianfrance clearly has lofty goals, and though his film doesn’t necessarily reach them, it’s better to have grasped for greatness and fallen short than not to have reached at all.

3.6 -- FIGURE OF ARMEN, Marlene Edoyan
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Winner of RIDM, 2012, this raw documentary digs deep into the territory of Armenia across the highlands of South Caucasus. With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and previous destructive wars and episodic invasions and acts of nature -- referring to the Persians, the 1988 earthquake, the Turkish expulsion and living under Georgian power in various parts of what was once Armenia, the inhabitants who appear in this film bear witness to the aftermath and the loss of economy and culture. Still most villagers refuse to go to Russia to work -- so attached are they to the land. It is an agrarian culture at best. These remarkably resilient people sing and recite poetry to one another as if to boost morale and hope. Armenians are the lost brilliant souls whose light will live forever, despite the barbaric misfortunes both natural and man-made that have torn their lives apart as they continue they exist in a fragmented society. This film was screened at Montreal's 2013 Vue d'Afrique Film Festival.

3.8 -- PAULETTE, Jérôme Enrico
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] She's poor, pugnacious and persistent. She's Paulette, a shameless scavenger of food, and odds and ends in dumpsters and garbage bins. The once radiant lady who owned a pastry shop during her early years of marriage -- her husband is dead -- but she still talks to him -- but she was bought out by some Chinese folk. Paulette made sure roaches were put in their food. Paulette hates blacks and 'chinks.' Unfortunately, her son-in-law is black and that is why she treats her grandson with malice. But it is all very funny, for her brute honesty is not without wit, and no one takes her seriously, that is until she persuades a gang of hashish dealers she wants in on the action and take and will deal for them. Soon Paulette is pulling in the Euros and despite the fact her son-in-law is a cop, she manages to outsmart everyone, including the top gun in the gang. She is getting into dangerous territory, so she begins baking and putting hashish into her goodies. It was her little grandson who gave her that idea after he cut up what he thought was chocolate and put it in her baking mixture. She suffers a slight heart attack in her own kitchen, so he gets her pills, and helps her; they become close. When Paulette refuses to work for a Russian drug king, her little grandson is kidnapped in retaliation and coercion. But Paulette together with her old lady friends rescues him. They become heroines barely escaping the heroin. All ends well. I loved this brilliant film that gives old ladies a reason to live and us younger folk a reason to ride along laughing. This film was screened at Montreal's 2013 Vue d'Afrique Film Festival.

2.1 -- ANGÉLIQUE KIDJO, Sophie Langois
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Oringally from Benin, Africa and now living in New York, 52-year-old diva, Angelique Kidjo is considered one of the world's greatest singers. Ambassador of UNICEF, she has created La Fondation Batonga to assist young girls in their studies. The documentary is choppy at best and does not tell much about her childhood when she took up the microphone at the age of six. She is involved in raising money for the MET Museum in New York where she brings over art for exhibitions. Her political affiliations involve pride of identity and victimization from slavery. Her voice is rich, but I imagine there are thousands of voices like hers in Africa, but she is certainly opening up a road for her sisters to sing internationally, as many now do at Montreal's internationally reknown jazz festival. Her mother is 86-years-old and was an actress; Kidjo does not fall short of confidence, but this 43-minute Radio-Canada piece does. Documentaries about singers often constitute clips of concerts, recording sessions and shots of adoring fans. This one certainly does, and oen gets the feeling that not all the story is told. This film was screened at Montreal's 2013 Vue d'Afrique Film Festival.

1.5 -- G.I. JOE: RETALIATION, Jon M. Chu
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Ostensibly a sequel to Stephen Sommers’ largely inept 2009 franchise starter "The Rise of Cobra," it actually feels more like a reboot, owing to the change in director, writers and much of the cast (save for Channing Tatum’s Duke, who gets supplanted as the lead by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s Roadblock anyway); regardless, it shares much in the way of convoluted plotting, shoddy scene construction and haphazard action sequences with its predecessor. The narrative, involving a presidential imposter, Himalayan ninjas and a top-secret underground prison, is largely incomprehensible, and the interchangeable shootout sequences, hampered by some truly awful post-conversion 3D, isn’t much better. But the film at least knows how to have fun, with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour that pokes fun at itself even while indulging its worst blockbuster instincts. It’s not a good film, but it is an entertaining one, begging the question: which is more important for a dumb action movie?

1.1 -- THE HOST, Andrew Niccol
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Gattaca writer/director Niccol tackles this soft science fiction tale, adapted from "Twilight" author Stephenie Meyer’s 2008 bestseller and starring Irish actress Saoirse Ronan as Melanie Stryder, one of the few remaining humans in a world overtaken by parasitic extra-terrestrials known only as 'souls.' Though combining a wealth of interesting sci-fi concepts, and mixing ideas from various body snatching, alien invasion, and post-apocalyptic source films, Meyer, once again, seems more interested in a cheesy love triangle involving an indecisive adolescent girl and two blandly hunky young men. While not quite dipping to the soul-crushing depths of "The Twilight Saga" (mostly due to Niccol’s assured visual sense and the higher-quality cast, especially a bearded, scene-stealing William Hurt), it nonetheless remains a fundamentally ridiculous, corny and downright boring affair, with essentially nothing new to say on the human condition. Niccol does his best, but, like the directors of the Twilight films, is handcuffed by Meyer’s wretched dialogue and immature worldview. In her eyes, everything boils down to cheap romantic fantasy, no matter what the stakes.

2.6 -- THE CALL, Brad Anderson
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] For much of its runtime, this Halle Berry star vehicle about a 911 operator aiding an abducted teenage girl (Abigail Breslin, bleached blonde and all grown up) follows a conventional, yet effective, thriller narrative; familiar plot beats are executed with gusto and confidence, helped by Anderson’s accomplished visual style and hard-and-fast editing technique. And the result is impressive, or at least surprisingly decent, especially considering the gimmicky premise and spoiler-filled trailers. But a third-act plot turn, largely absent from the advertising, mixes "Silence of the Lambs"-esque creepiness with a feminist revenge fantasy of sorts, eschewing the kind of cathartic denouement usually preferred by Hollywood in favour of something more off-putting and fascinating. It may look and feel like the typical thriller climax, complete with a suitably disturbing locale and questionable character decisions, but the ideological implications are bit more interesting, giving this otherwise generic film a bit more oomph than was to be expected and making it far more memorable.

2.0 -- THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, Jean-Pierre Améris
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] An adaptation of one of Victor Hugo’s lesser-known works, about a young boy whose face is scarred in such a manner as to give him the appearance of an eternal smile (hence the title); the previous film version, starring Conrad Veidt and released in 1928, was one of the primary inspirations for The Joker villain of Batman comics lore. As such, this version cannot pass without inevitable comparisons to recent cinematic incarnations of "The Clown Prince of Crime" – especially Heath Ledger’s posthumous portrayal in "The Dark Knight." Québécois actor Marc-André Grondin – he of "C.R.A.Z.Y." and "Goon" fame – plays the freakish, titular Gwynplaine, and, with his boyish good looks, shaggy hair and scarred visage, can’t help but resemble Ledger, even though the character, a long-lost nobleman, couldn’t be more different. Regardless, this adaptation, despite boasting impressive production values and a noteworthy cast (including Gerard Depardieu as the man who takes in Gwynplaine), remains a fundamentally hollow affair, save for a few (all-too-brief) moments of comic inspiration. For all of its pedigree, it’s a downright dull work.

3.2 -- STOKER, Park Chan-wook
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Oldboy director Chan-wook makes his English-language debut with this stylish and disturbing tale of the stylishly disturbing family of the title. When her father dies, young India (Mia Wasikowska) meets the Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) she never knew she had – and her mother (Nicole Kidman) instantly takes a fancy to the dashing and handsome gentleman. Thus, this atmospheric thriller, which draws upon Hitchcock’s "Shadow of a Doubt," among others, has a distinctly incestuous bent, one emphasized by Chan-wook via his florid camerawork and painterly compositions. In fact, one wishes that the director would tone down his choppy editing technique and allow the stunning visuals more time to linger, instead of falling back into the classical shot/reverse shot approach to dialogue exchanges. Still, there’s a lot to like about this unique and memorable work, from Goode’s shadowy performance to the ominous score persisting throughout. It certainly is a film of style, and Chan-wook gives us plenty of that.

2.2 -- ADMISSION, Paul Weitz
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Tina Fey, free at last from the clutches of network television, headlines this middlebrow dramedy centering on Princeton admissions officer Portia Nathan (Fey herself), who crosses paths with John Pressman (the always-affable Paul Rudd), the head of an ‘alternative’ New Hampshire high school that forgoes grades and tests and focuses more on preparing students for the real world. While an interesting concept (if drawn a bit from last year’s Rudd/Jennifer Aniston comedy "Wanderlust"), this narrative is more concerned with cheap drama, as Pressman insists that his star pupil, an autodidactic child prodigy named Jeremiah, is the child that Portia gave up for adoption while in college. And so begins a typically corny Hollywood journey of life, love and redemption, filled with a handful of moral lessons and only a couple good chuckles. Indeed, the drama-to-comedy ratio of this film seems dangerously out of whack, especially considering the comic stylings of the two lead performers; thankfully, supporting actors Lily Tomlin, Michael Sheen and Wallace Shawn are more than game, if rather underused, in the laughter department. There’s thus nothing much notable about this light-hearted romp, save for the sight, at last, of two of America’s favourite comic personalities making out.

3.4 -- NO, Pablo Larraín
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Chile’s official entrant (and eventual nominee) in the Foreign Language category at the most recent Oscars is of a piece with other recent nominees and winners in the category; that is to say, deeply political and morally affecting, but ultimately optimistic. Depicting the 1988 plebiscite over whether dictator Augusto Pinochet should remain in power, it is an authentic portrait of a specific time and place, enhanced by director Larraín’s decision to shoot with an old camera, appropriating the look of late ‘80s video. The result is off-putting at first, but eventually lends the material a documentary-esque appearance, allowing it to seamlessly merge with archival footage from the era. Mexican actor Gael García Bernal is terrific as the ad man hired to run the ‘NO’ campaign -- one of the first instances of commercial advertising techniques being utilized in politics -- and the narrative is compelling and important, leading to one of the year’s best foreign imports.

[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Disney’s latest live-action revival of an iconic fantasy franchise -- following Tim Burton’s disastrous "Alice in Wonderland" -- is predictably expensive-looking and 3D-amplified, but it is also, like "Alice," lacking a soul (and quite possibly a brain, a heart and some courage as well). James Franco, in a wretched turn, stars as Oscar Diggs (nicknamed Oz), an early 20th century traveling circus magician who is whisked away in his hot air balloon by a Kansas tornado, transporting him -- much like Dorothy -- to the wonderful titular land. One of director Raimi’s (known for the "Evil Dead" and "Spider-Man" trilogies) few positive creative choices is to switch the film from sepia-tinted Academy ratio to glorious Technicolor widescreen as Oz makes his journey, just as it was in the original "The Wizard of Oz;" much of the remaining film is so digitally-enhanced as to be uninspiring and drab. Thus, like "Alice," this is an ugly, awful film, one that wastes a gargantuan budget, decent performances by Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams as dueling witches (Mila Kunis, as the future Wicked Witch of the West, is as awful as Franco), and a climactic tribute to science, magic, and cinema that is as out-of-place as it is squandered.

2.7 -- DEAD MAN DOWN, Niels Arden Oplev
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Director Oplev reteams with his "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" star Noomi Rapace in this weighty crime thriller, one more interesting in its characters’ motivations and backgrounds than mindless action scenes -- at least until the jaw-droppingly awful climax, in which all plot and character development is thrown out the window in favour of a cheaply satisfying shootout neither needed nor wanted. It’s a shame, since the build-up is sufficiently tense and well-crafted, positioning all the pieces of its puzzle in such a manner as to be eventually exploited with great aplomb. Instead, it becomes a brainless action flick, betraying both its layered narrative and well-developed characters, especially Colin Farrell’s tortured protagonist. Long thought of as merely a pretty-boy romantic lead, Farrell is finally coming into his own as a compelling character actor, and the shoddy quality of this film’s ending does little to dull his charms or talent.

4.0 -- THE LEGEND OF SARILA, Nancy Florence Savard
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A really enchanting animation set in the Great North where a clan of Inuit live. The old shaman Croolik who guides them is a vengeful person. He has become arrogant and intent on killing the son of the man who accidently wounded him in the leg. He has put a curse on the land so that no animals are there and everyone is very hungry. Three of them set out to find the legendary land of Sarila -- full of milk and honey and lots of meat. One of them chosen to go is the son of the father that had killed Croolik's son. He is a shaman in the making, but he does not know yet how powerful he is. Many bad things happen to the trio who set out to find Sarila -- all because of the evil shaman. In the end, things work out and the clan is restored into balance. Croolik meets his hubris. The images and characters were exceptionally real and lovely in this French language film that was shown as part of Montreal's International Children's Film Festival (2013).

2.5 -- BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, Richard LaGravenese
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Yet another young adult novel adaptation/Twilight rip-off hits the big screens, this time changing the supernatural creatures at the heart of the story from vampires and werewolves to witches (or casters, as they prefer to be called). Set in small-town South Carolina, and focusing on a pair of star-crossed lovers -- one human, one not -- battling paranormal forces, the connections to the Stephenie Meyer-penned phenomenon are obvious; however, the references to classic literature and poetry (the title coming from a Charles Bukowski poem) grant this series a slightly higher pedigree, if only in relative terms. Though a couple of unknowns fill the roles of the protagonists, the supporting cast is chock full of name character actors, including scenery-chewing Emma Thompson, Jeremy Irons and Emmy Rossum. And although the story is predictably nonsensical and the special effects rather fake-looking, writer/director LaGravenese (best known as the screenwriter of such films as "The Fisher King" and "The Bridges of Madison County") keeps things amusingly light and corny, forgoing the dark solemnity of other such good vs. evil showdowns for a decidedly cheesier approach. It’s not great cinema by any means, but it is entertaining hokum, which is all you can really ask from something like this.

1.6 -- SAFE HAVEN , Lasse Hallström
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Nicholas Sparks is something of a brand name these days, with this film the eighth adaptation of his works within the last 15 years. As with most ongoing franchises of this length, the formula has become so rote and predictable as to be easily defined in single terms: young white couple, blossoming romance, kissing in the rain, darker plot developments, bittersweet ending. In films ranging from" A Walk to Remember" to "The Notebook" to "Dear John," the formula has remained largely the same, and for much of this iteration, the narrative doesn’t deviate much: Katie (Julianne Hough), on the run from the law, settles in a small North Carolina coastal town and falls in love with Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widower with two young children. Though much of the plot unfolds exactly as you think it might, a final twist veers the story sharply into the realm of the paranormal, and recalls Shyamalan more than Sparks. Regardless of how insane and out-of-place this twist may be, though, it’s still not enough to render the previous two hours anything but bland, inert filmmaking.

1.7 -- A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD, John Moore
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Bruce Willis’ iconic action hero John McClane returns for his fifth adventure a bit greyer and paunchier than in the previous film, the surprisingly entertaining and well-crafted "Live Free or Die Hard." But this installment, which sends McClane to Moscow and teams him up with his CIA son Jack (Jai Courtney, from last year’s "Jack Reacher"), finally falls victim to the ever-cited Law of Diminishing Returns. Director Moore (known for the crappy "The Omen" remake and the crappy "Max Payne" adaptation) brings his crappy cinematic sensibilities to this unnecessary sequel, showing a complete inability to construct an exciting action sequence and pushing Willis to the background of his own franchise. By focusing on Jack’s daddy issues instead of John’s trademark one-liners and real-world attributes, Moore forgets what makes the series click. Indeed, McClane seems more superhero than human this time around, a far cry from his original incarnation, making this simply another sequel cash grab.

0.8 -- BULLET TO THE HEAD, Walter Hill
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Director Hill’s return to the big screen after a ten-year absence is also the first non-franchise film headlined by star Sylvester Stallone in roughly the same time period; as such, this is something of a comeback for both actor and director, even though Sly has also been seen in his iconic roles of Rocky and Rambo, as well as the star-studded "Expendables" features, over the past decade. But this New Orleans-set actioner is closer to the generic Stallone vehicles of the ‘80s and ‘90s than any franchise picture, as the action is much more toned down and 'realistic' than the purposeful ridiculousness of the aforementioned "Expendables" movies; unfortunately, this does not necessarily make it better. Indeed, though some may admire the stripped-down approach and retro feel to this simple revenge tale, I found it intolerably low-rent and insufferably awful. Though Sly still has the ripped bod and gruff demeanour to pull off the reluctant anti-hero, the script here is so mind-numbingly terrible that no amount of cheesy one-liners can save it. In plain fact, this is an ugly film, chock full of casual racism, misogyny and homophobia, one not worth anyone’s time or money.

2.3 -- WARM BODIES, Jonathan Levine
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The zombie genre takes a decidedly hipster turn with this ironic romantic comedy, adapted from the recent novel of the same name by author Isaac Marion. Loosely based upon The Bard’s iconic tragedy “Romeo and Juliet,” it concerns a recently turned flesh-eater known only as R (as he can’t remember the rest of his name), who mindlessly shuffles around a decaying airport, searching for human brains. Only this zombie is not so mindless, as voiceover narration makes clear that he not only thinks, but talks as well -- or at least attempts to. R is thus something of a post-modern zombie, conflicted about his brain-eating ways, wondering about his existence, and even falling in love -- with Julie, one of the few surviving humans. Though comparisons to "Twilight" inevitably abound, the target audience for this is likely much narrower, due to R’s hipster ways: this walking corpse listens to vinyl, takes Polaroid pictures, collects stereoscopic toys, and -- most importantly -- even becomes vegan. In the end, he ceases to be a zombie at all, turning back into a human through the power of love. Right.

3.2 -- SOUND CITY, Dave Grohl
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters founder Grohl makes his directorial debut with this documentary on the famed recording studio in Van Nuys, Los Angeles, where albums ranging from Neil Young’s "After the Gold Rush" to Nirvana’s landmark "Nevermind" have been recorded. Grohl obviously has nostalgic ties to the place, and thus his movie is appropriately celebratory of and sentimental for the days of live studio sessions and analog music production. But the rock star does not forget to also be critical, and therefore cleverly ties the history of Sound City to the development and evolution of song recording over the last 40 years. Grohl, and those he interviews (including, but not limited to, Mick Fleetwood, Tom Petty, and Rick Springfield), clearly reject the modern trends of Auto-Tune and Pro Tools as instruments of music production, and thus the film is rather one-sided and subjective, making it more essayistic than strictly documentarian. But Grohl has clearly put his heart and soul into this, and despite a third act turn towards album making-of and promotion, this is a highly enjoyable and deeply informative documentary on one of the little-known legacies of rock ‘n’ roll.

3.9-- ZERO DARK THIRTY, Kathryn Bigelow
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] If you want to follow the true story of how a young CIA agent on her first assignment is able to track down and arrange the killing of Osama Bin Laden, this powerful film is not to be missed. Maya (Jessica Chastain) is an integral member on an elite team of intelligence experts whose job it is to stop the carnage that ensues following 9/11. She proves she's got the chops to be on top of her game, and then some. Having to work with a male dominated team, she is far ahead of them. She surpasses their turtle-like investigations going on at headquarters in Pakistan and pays the price through conflicts and emotional wear. She's in the field, witnessing the torture of possible informants who will lead them to key terrorists, even interrogates them; she not only survives the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, but she is also dodging bullets while leaving for work in her car. Spurred on to find out who the messengers are for Bin Laden -- after one of her female teammates is tricked into meeting an informant at a secret outpost who gets blown up by the supposed informant as he approaches her and her team in his car -- Maya is raging with furious determination. She lets nothing stop her from figuring out the riveting riddle as to where the 'big guy' is. Through endless hours of espionage which she more or less spearheads, she convinces her superior and the president's office that bin Laden is not hiding out in some cave, but in fact, is hiding out in a compound in Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. It takes over 100 days for her team to allow her to approach America's top guns. She must convince them that this compound where OBL is. The crucial round-table talk reveals that her teammates think she is 66% right, but she says she is 95% right. In an amazing operative -- the pre-final to the movie -- we watch how the swat team called 'the canaries' are able to get to Osama and kill him along with others living in the compound. This scene was played out with detail that was so realistic, one forgot the entire episode consisted of actors performing a pivotal scene. There was great suspense, even though we knew what the outcome would be. Still, we got to see how it all happened. Maya had nerves of steel. She brilliantly brought down the bad guy and some of his important cohorts. Some parts are difficult to watch due to torture scenes, and trying to keep up with Maya's mind, as she figured out who was who in the terrorist game, was a challenge for sure. The fim is almost two hours long, and it is a true feat that this intricate real-life story was so valiantly pieced together by the director and writer-producer, Mark Boal. The research must have been exhaustive, and getting to top secret files, and those privy to top classified information was a triumph in itself. (This film was viewed, compliments of Le SuperClub Videotron, 5000 rue Wellington, in Verdun, Quebec). HERE

3.9 -- ZERO DARK THIRTY, Kathryn Bigelow
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] This much-acclaimed (and heavily controversial) fact-based account of the search for and eventual capture of Osama bin Laden is akin in many ways to director Bigelow’s previous Oscar-winning drama "The Hurt Locker." Both are decidedly apolitical and straight-forward, depicting the lives of their no-nonsense leads (whether an explosives expert in Iraq or a CIA analyst in Pakistan) with little-to-no moral posturing and no grand thesis statements on their respective topics (whether it be war or terrorism). These are simply low-level professionals, dedicated to their day-to-day jobs, which just happen to be protecting America from potential threats. In this case it is Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young agent who becomes the key figure in the hunt for bin Laden, and who seems less a fully developed character than a representative cipher for the myriad of CIA professionals who helped lead to bin Laden’s death. Nevertheless, Chastain’s performance is fiery and ferocious, and Bigelow’s mastery of tension and suspense remains unparalleled. Though largely procedural and by-the-books, it is no less effective, making this likely the best film of the year.

3.2 -- CATIMINI, Nathalie Saint-Pierre
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] This low-key Québécois drama is an insightful and sobering look and the deeply problematic foster child system, through the eyes of four young girls ranging in age from 6 to 18. Writer/director (and Montréal native) Saint-Pierre’s overlapping screenplay is an emblem of structural perfection, as it follows each girl for a set period of time before seamlessly transitioning to the next one via the plot device of a shared foster home. The film thus garners sympathy for each of its female leads while simultaneously (and subtly) exposing the cracks and flaws in the system. Through the progressively increasing ages of the four young protagonists, the film tackles issues stretching from borderline racism and homophobia to outright sexual exploitation and substance abuse – weighty themes indeed. Thus, despite the impressive performances of the cast and the intriguing quality of the narrative, this is not an overly enjoyable work, although it is quite an important one.

1.4 -- THE IMPOSSIBLE, Juan Antonio Bayona
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The supposedly true story of one family’s amazing survival in Thailand following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, it seems less concerned with reality and truth than heartwarming fantasy and cheap melodrama (the fact that the family’s nationality was changed from Spanish to British for the purposes of the film speaks to this). Melodrama is not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case, the invocation of an actual natural disaster which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands for the purposes of cinematic spectacle and tacky sentimentality seems in extremely poor taste, not even a decade removed from the actual event. Thus, any awe or wonder gained by the amazing digital reproduction of the enormous tsunami wave is instantly washed away (so to speak) by feelings of sadness and guilt for the real-life victims. Despite the inevitable uplifting ending, then, this is not an enjoyable film to watch, with images of dread, destruction, and death dominating, leaving one notably depressed and downtrodden. What is the purpose of making such a film? To whitewash the actual disaster with a fake tale of survival? If so, what a terrible affront to the remaining survivors, who surely do not want to relive their tragedy for the purposes of entertainment.

1.8 -- BROKEN CITY, Allen Hughes
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Director Hughes flies solo for the first time, separating from his brother and usual co-director Albert to helm this NYC political drama starring Marky Mark Wahlberg as a former detective turned private eye (yes, they do still exist – a conceit even joked about) and Russell Crowe as the popular mayor running for re-election (complete with an awful hairstyle and fake tan). The result is a crime tale full of corruption, intrigue and sleaze; unfortunately, it is also one full of ridiculous action sequences and even more ridiculous plot developments. Hughes lets the film get away from him on more than one occasion, and thus things only grow wilder and more out-of-control as the narrative progresses (and not in an exciting or interesting way). The convolutions and contrivances of the plot are actually fairly well structured and revealed; however, the frequently overwrought camerawork and variable performances (ranging from Crowe’s scenery-chewing to Wahlberg’s woodenness) render the story mostly pointless. Therefore, this becomes a largely meaningless and silly film, one without much aim or direction.

2.5 -- PARKER, Taylor Hackford
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Playing Parker won't go down as Jason Statham's greatest acting role, but this fist-wielding dude who happens to be a professional thief, sure knows how to knock out the bad guys using all kinds of survival methods: guns, knives, fists, broken glass, electric cords, even the top of a toilet tank. When bad guys owe him money for taking part in a planned heist and then renege on paying, watch out! This is exactly what this movie is about: chasing down the bad guys for personal payback, and this time the hero not only finds a way to get back the $200,000 owed to him by participating in a heist at the Ohio State (he disguised himself as a priest to make it happen), but he ends up getting a lot more dough after he hunts down the band of guys who betrayed him and left him for dead immediately after shooting him because he doesn't want to do any more heists. Jennifer Lopez plays a real estate agent up to her eyeballs in debt, so when Parker lands at the real estate office in Palm Beach, Florida, where she works without any success, he uses her to get close to the bad guys' hideout. She ends up winning big -- but not before she gets caught in the bad guys' snare. Parker saves the day of course and cashes in on jewels and ends up getting off the bad guys (they rob them at huge auction). He kills them, gets the goods and shares the money with the real estate agent much later. Parker is a good guy who only wants what is promised to him in any deal. He doesn't like chaos or those who don't do what they say they will do, and he will kill to get his fair shake. This film would make a good series around this Parker character, and Jennifer Lopez ought to be included. She added great comedic flare. Not a dull moment to be had, but the blood was as plentiful as the billionaires who keep the banks busy at Palm Beach.

0.9 -- PARKER, Taylor Hackford
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The latest Jason Statham vehicle is an adaptation of the novel Flashfire, from the Parker series of novels, of which the films Point Blank and Payback had previously been adapted. Though this film would thus seemingly have literary cred, it is little more than an excuse for another generic Statham plot, involving a group of thieves, a double-cross, J.Lo, and a horribly fake Texan accent. If all that sounds rather ridiculous, that’s because it is – but not even in a fun or entertaining way. Instead, this thing is so ineptly shot and cut that it’s barely watchable – director Hackford seems to have forgotten how to construct a workable movie, and thus the plot is full of so many gaps and holes you’d think they were writing the script as they went. Even the action scenes – the prime reason or any Statham picture – are few and far between, leaving one to wonder as to the actual purpose of such a film. Without impressive fight sequences, what’s the point?

4.0 -- LES MISÉRABLES, Tom Hooper
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Expect the richest feast of lyric and song score with voices sent from heaven and all lush places in between from the gifted mouths of Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean), Russell Crowe (Javert), Anne Hathaway (Fantine), Amanda Seyfried (Cossette) Samatha Bark (Éponine) and a sterling cast of supporting singer/actors who dramatically convey their individual hopes, but mainly horrors endured during the turmoil of pre-revolutionary France. Based on Victor Hugo's epic 1862 masterpiece novel, this film vividly captures the crush of chaos and inhumanity that begins with the theft of a single loaf of bread! The script and libretto is earth-shattering fantastic. Raw emotion was the only way to go to give each character his/her profound plight. This is a great musical worthy of the $81million dollars spent to make it happen. I saw the Imax version at Cineplex Odeon forum in Montreal, and I recommend you splurge to benefit from the high definition sound. Powerful, stirring and a cinematic feat for all involved.

3.8 -- QUARTET, Dustin Hoffman
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] It doesn't get much better than this! Music, wit, tempers, hurt feelings, flamboyant personalities overflowing with magnificent musicianship and a catharsis as compelling as any opera -- these are the juicy elements that reach their high notes in this delightfully endearing comedy. An illustrious array of over-the-hill opera stars have been put out to pasture -- so to speak -- in Beecham House, a stunning retirement home that resembles a regal estate striding the verdant meadows of Buckinghamshire. Musical ensembles, singing duos, solo practices, piano lessons, choir groups and lectures fill the days of this engaging group of septuagenarians. The plot is as melodramatically thrilling as the Verdi quartet that the main stars will be performing in honour of Verdi's birthday, and most importantly, with the purpose of raising funds to keep Beecham's old ebullient self alive. The cast of characters who steal the entire movie include Cissy (Pauline Collins) Wilf (Billy Connolly), Tom Courtney and Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). Their over-the-top music director is Cedric whose self-aggrandizement is embodied in the flashy garment/costumes he wears every day. Cissy has dementia, and Wilf is a charming letch whose flirtatious charm is practiced on Beecham's Doctor, Lucy Cogan. Each of these characters appears to be characters in their own real-life opera. With the arrival of Jean Horton, Beecham House is thrown into chaos, and the plot intensifies. It seems Reginald was married to Jean for a grand total of nine hours decades ago; he left her when he had found out she cavorted with some Italian tenor in her younger days while on tour. But at Beecham they come face to face once again, and although Jean wishes to make amends, Reginald snubs her -- that is until he along with his friends realize they need her to complete the quartet group for the Verdi benefit performance. Jean refuses. She is a gritty one who does not take ageing gracefully. But she relents once she realizes she has been acting like a vintage prima donna. Action and dialogue pick up their pace marked in moments of various crescendos and diminuendos -- much like Bach's contrapuntal preludes and fugues which intermittently are heard throughout this timeless gem, "Quartet" is a mini masterpiece that is funny, fun and highly sympathetic to the exceptional calling of artists who have so much to offer no matter how old they get. The cast (which also features Dame Gwyneth Jones in the role of a former 'Tosca' star -- vocal rival to Horton) is sheer genius. What an ensemble. Every moment in this film is precious. Bravo!

2.5 -- QUARTET, Dustin Hoffman
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] An altogether harmless and rather enjoyable romp, set a retirement home in the English countryside for former musicians ranging from opera singers to pianists. The titular foursome refers to a famed group of operatic voices that are reunited when the most popular of the group (played by Maggie Smith) arrives at the sprawling estate. Inevitably, personality clashes emerge and old wounds open, leading to some sense of manufactured drama; however, the stakes are never particularly high – all that’s at risk is a climactic performance of one of Verdi’s operas – and thus the tone remains agreeably pleasant throughout – save for a typically crass and colourful performance by Billy Connolly, one of the funniest men on the planet. But even he is eventually tamed by director Hoffman’s bland filmmaking and adherence to the stagey script – adapted by Ronald Harwood from his own play – that saps the film of most of its life and renders the lively performances mostly inert. Still, it’s not a bad film, just a plain and simple one, geared towards middlebrow audiences by an actor-turned-director who lost his edge a long time ago.

2.5 -- DJANGO UNCHAINED, Quentin Tarantino
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German immigrant, joins forces with Django (Jamie Fox), a slave he picks and frees from a small chain gang being led in the forest by some bad white guys who are on route to sell the poor souls. They too are freed after the bad guys are killed by Schultz. This polite former dentist is looking for the cruel Brittle brothers who work on a plantation who Django can pick out as they used to whip him silly. They are wanted by the USA government for murder. Soon into the story, they are found and killed by both. Django and Schultz become close friends, and now they are trying to find Broomhilda, Django's wife -- separated from him when they were sold. She is tracked down on Candyland Plantation run by Calvin Candy (Leonardo DiCaprio). They mislead Calvin cooking up a business deal that has nothing to do with their true intentions -- to escape with Broomhilda. Django carries out his love mission; he is a fearless hero who stops at nothing to find his beloved Broomhilda and seek vengeance; she has suffered great indignations and cruel whippings. After much bloodshed, the film ends in happiness, but Schultz is killed in a Candyland shootout when he refuses to shake hands with Calvin after paying thousands of dollars to buy back Broomhilda. The best performances come from Christoph Waltz, an interesting character who plays by the rules which involve upstanding values. Another interesting role was the supercilious slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) Calvin's uber-loyal confident who runs the house. He is a betrayer of his own people, preferring to tattle and seek punishment on run-way slaves, such as Broomhilda. There are so many violent scenes in the film that the message in this love story is drowned in a never-ending series of blood baths. It's a fun western, but don't eat anything while watching it.




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