***½/**** Image A Sound A+ starring Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, Klaus Wennemann, Hubertus Bengsch screenplay by Wolfgang Petersen, based on the novel by Lothar G. Buchheim directed by Wolfgang Petersen
by Walter Chaw The curious mental state of German submariners in the waning days of the second World War is reflected in the general malaise of the United States in the weeks following September Eleventh and the hours preceding our unpopular pre-emptive strike against Iraq. Caught in the maddening doldrums between one act of unimaginable violence and its inevitable aftershocks, America's implacable disquiet is one part anticipation of the inevitable, multiple parts cynicism, and, for a large portion of the population, a dollop of distinct lack of faith in the motives and competency of our leadership. A closer examination of the similarities pithy but perhaps unfruitful, sufficed to say that revisiting Wolfgang Petersen's masterpiece Das Boot (in its Director's Cut form) at this suspended moment in time is not only rewarding as great cinema can be, but also current and amazingly poignant.
by Bill Chambers Inexplicable, tone-deaf Looney Tunes pairings are legion in post-Termite Terrace revivals of the brand, but rare is the Golden Age head-scratcher quite like The High and the Flighty, an otherwise pro forma Foghorn Leghorn cartoon guest starring...Daffy Duck? Introduced joyfully bouncing a ball towards a mysterious "rope limit" that turns out to be the reach of the leash holding Barnyard Dog in check, Foghorn starts another war with his canine nemesis that travelling salesman Daffy Duck espies and decides to capitalize on by selling both parties his wares from the Ace Novelty Company, double agent-style. Once Foghorn and Barnyard realize that Daffy's exploited their conflict to line his pockets, they turn the tables on him. It's really that simple. There's a reason Daffy works for Ace and not Acme--because his products work, more or less; that's something, I guess, and as usual Foghorn Leghorn, thanks to Mel Blanc and writer Tedd Pierce, is immanently quotable ("We have been flimflammed!"), though his relative size is even more all-over-the-place than usual. But Daffy Duck is an insuperably odd presence here, with Pierce and director Robert McKimson seemingly recognizing Daffy's inherent dissonance in this milieu by casting him in a generic huckster role that suppresses his persona--they've only tailor-fitted the comeuppance gag for him, which consequently feels mean-spirited--yet cannot eclipse his iconic baggage. Punning the name of John Wayne's proto-Airport sudser The High and the Mighty, the title doesn't make much sense, either. Available on:Looney Tunes: Platinum Collection, Vol. 2 [Blu-ray](Running Time: 6:39)
EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED **/**** starring Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz, Boris Leskin, Laryssa Lauret screenplay by Liev Schreiber, based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer directed by Liev Schreiber
A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE ****/**** Image A Sound A Extras A starring Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt screenplay by Josh Olson, based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke directed by David Cronenberg
by Walter Chaw A year after a glut of films about the past being wilfully stifled by the present, find Liev Schreiber's Everything is Illuminated and David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, literal calls to awake following the nightmare of the night before--or, better, avenues through which we might recognize that suppressing a collective shadow mainly serves to nourish it until it explodes, monstrous, back into our consciousness. The one is based on an Anthony Burgess-like book of great linguistic imagination by Jonathan Safran Foer, the other a spare graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke--and just the obliqueness of the respective source materials speaks to the primacy of their message: "Everything is illuminated by the past." The keystone line in Schreiber's picture, this serves as a mission statement of sorts for both films, locating in the middle of this first decade of the new millennium something that feels like a weary acceptance that not only are we products of our trauma and misdeeds, but also that our trauma and misdeeds are beyond redress and completely inescapable. To parse the best line in Kenneth Branagh's Dead Again, it's the karmic payment plan: buy now, pay forever.
Finally opening this weekend in limited U.S. release are two films Walter Chaw and I, respectively, loved on the festival circuit, David Robert Mitchell's It Follows (Canada: March 27) and Ethan Hawke's Seymour: An Introduction (Canada: next week, March 20). Don't miss them.
DUMB AND DUMBER TO ***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B- starring Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Rob Riggle, Laurie Holden screenplay by Sean Anders & John Morris and Peter Farrelly & Bobby Farrelly & Bennett Yellin & Mike Cerrone directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly
HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 **/**** Image B+ Sound A Extras C- starring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston screenplay by Sean Anders & John Morris directed by Sean Anders
by Bill Chambers The Farrelly Brothers' Dumb and Dumber To opens with Jim Carrey's Lloyd Christmas emerging from twenty years of catatonia. As the trailers were eager to give away, he's just been playing an elaborate hoax on best friend Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels), but still: point taken. To put things in perspective, more time elapsed between Dumb and Dumber and its sequel than did between The Godfather Part II and The Godfather Part III, and the popular form--along with the popular taste in--movie comedy has changed significantly in the interim. This is the Rip Van Winkle of franchises, squarely un-hip no matter how evergreen is its scatological humour; the filmmakers, ultimately to their credit, value tonal continuity with Dumb & Dumber over blending in. With a plot revolving around a McGuffin that felt rickety when the first one did it in 1994, the picture embraces the quaint charms of the old school to ironically novel effect.
Im Toten Winkel - Hitlers Sekretärin ***½/**** directed by André Heller & Othmar Schmiderer
by Bill Chambers A significant source of Blind Spot. Hitler's Secretary's power is the au naturel form it takes. There are no re-enactments, there are no such visual cues as photographs or stock footage; there isn't even any underscore--only the talking head of Traudl Junge, who, with her rotating cluster of sweaters and ascots, is the film's aesthetic. Directors André Heller and Othmar Schmiderer (Heller interviewed, Schmiderer shot) either believe Junge to be so compelling a presence as to challenge the need for newsreel aids, or fundamentally appreciate that they risked depersonalizing Junge's fresh, intimate perspective by going the History Channel route. I only skimmed the press notes (which are rather regrettably written: "Like Adolf Hitler, [Heller and Schmiderer] were also born and raised in Austria," begins an introduction to the filmmakers) to keep from cheapening Blind Spot's enigmatic approach--that ambivalence--for myself: The film casts a spell as fragile as that of an ILM spectacle.
Also opening this weekend in limited release is a trio of movies Walter Chaw reviewed on the festival circuit: '71, Everly, and The Duke of Burgundy, which has finally come to Toronto. Meanwhile, I covered Maps to the Stars at TIFF '14; it makes its U.S. theatrical bow today.
by Walter Chaw Unsentimental and terrifying and set against lovely, John Constable-esque watercolour backgrounds, Martin Rosen's adaptation of the Richard Adams novel Watership Down arose in that extended lull between Disney's heyday and its late-Eighties resurrection. (This period also saw, in addition to Rosen's film of Adams's The Plague Dogs, Rankin & Bass's The Last Unicorn and Ralph Bakshi's most productive period, which included 1978's The Lord of the Rings.) Watership Down points to the dwindled potential for American animation to evolve into what anime has become: a mature medium for artistic expression of serious issues. A shame that this flawed piece is possibly the pinnacle of animation's ambition on these shores, Richard Linklater's Waking Life notwithstanding.
*½/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras B starring Paul Walker, Steve Zahn, Leelee Sobieski, Matthew Kimbrough screenplay by Clay Tarver & JJ Abrams directed by John Dahl
by Walter Chaw John Dahl's latest foray into knock-off B-movie territory is Joy Ride, a film that indulges an awkward dedication to hiding the face of its villain (which results in the biggest cheat of the film at its conclusion), presents predictably misogynistic victimizations for both of its female characters (followed by weak-wristed salvations), and demands an ironclad suspension of disbelief that the bad guy is omniscient, omnipresent, and only ruthless when there isn't a long speech to be made. The joyless Joy Ride is a leaden collection of cheap thriller clichés redolent with the flop-sweat stench of stale desperation and clumsy sleight-of-hand, a stultifying series of promising set-ups with threadbare pay-offs. The film drives home its cautionary message against childishness with an increasing immaturity--it's the equivalent of burying a toddler up to the neck for throwing a tantrum, and though it will predictably (and fairly) be compared against The Hitcher and Duel, the most telling stolen moment in Joy Ride is a cornfield intrigue that substitutes the evil crop duster from North by Northwest for a rumbling semi tractor-trailer that somehow locates its prey in the dead of night amongst concealing stalks.
*/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras D starring Jennifer Lopez, Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson, Bob Hoskins screenplay by Kevin Wade directed by Wayne Wang
by Walter Chaw Less another version of the Cinderella story than a remake of the dreadful Ever After, Wayne Wang's Maid in Manhattan (why Wang is trying to make the same kind of magical Manhattan love tripe as Nora Ephron is only the first of the film's head-scratchers) manages ill-advisedly to remind of the Ally Sheedy vehicle Maid to Order whilst degenerating into the sort of dead-eyed quasi-political femi-bullshit tailor-made for divas in decline looking for a reason for their existence other than as subject of the next blaring headline. Ironic, then, that the central issues of the picture are resolved through snapshots of fake magazine covers.
One Hundred and One Dalmatians ***½/**** Image B- Sound A- Extras A story by Bill Peet, based on the book The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton S. Luske, Clyde Geronimi
by Bill Chambers 1959's Sleeping Beauty and 1961's One Hundred and One Dalmatians (hereafter 101 Dalmatians) make for an illuminating double-bill; the latter could even be construed as a Godardian rejoinder to the former. An anti-auteur of these movies, Walt Disney determined their outcome by divesting resources from their development--including his own expertise--and pouring them into his personal Taj Mahal, Disneyland. This deprived the expensive Sleeping Beauty of the talent that may have been able to crack its deceptively-simple fairytale formula and transcend the limitations of a graphical style inspired by medieval tapestries. When the film barely broke even, Disney decided his next animated feature would adapt a property with some grounding in contemporary prose and cost a lot less, leading to the shuttering of the ink-and-paint department and a vigorous embrace of Xerography, whereby the animators' pencil drawings were photocopied directly onto acetate rather than delicately retraced and refined by hand.
½*/**** Image A Sound A Extras A starring Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Garner, Gena Rowlands screenplay by Jeremy Leven, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks directed by Nick Cassavetes
by Walter Chaw Ah, Nicholas Sparks. I once saw an interview with Nicholas Sparks in which he accused literary critics of envying his success, thus shedding light on the consistently bad reviews he's gotten throughout his career while failing to explain why he got terrible reviews for his debut novel as well. Nor does this explain how it is that someone who's barely literate himself could have understood his critics enough to feel offended--after all, Sparks's admirers certainly aren't reading the reviews. In fact, that movie executives appear to be among Sparks's biggest fans (The Notebook is the third faithfully awful adaptation of a Sparks opus--two more to go) says a lot about both movie executives and Sparks's books.
**/**** Image B Sound A Extras B- starring Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson, Viveca Lindfors screenplay by Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich directed by Roland Emmerich
by Bill Chambers Spawning a television show and solidifying the Hollywood career of German director Roland Emmerich, 1994's Stargate was the last movie to get the memo that Abyss-ian water walls and morphing technology no longer evoked World's Fair awe. These special effects are merely the epitome of Stargate's second-hand wonder; part of the film's value as a curiosity piece is its New York street-merchant vibe: like peddlers of the Rolux watch or Parda handbag, Emmerich and co-producer/co-writer Dean Devlin are selling us an approximation of a blockbuster by a licensed hitmaker, and we excuse them the same way we allow for the smudgy print of carbon copies or the colour bleed on VHS dubs. It must be a human impulse to absolve a facsimile of its absence of novelty.