Dredd 3-D

‘Dredd’ is a remake of a 1995 Sylvester Stallone flop called ‘Judge Dredd’. With a $90M budget, it grossed ~ $35M and was one of the one of the worst films of the year. ‘Dredd’ feels more like a remake of the recent ‘The Raid:Redemption’. Sorry, but I hated all three of the films we’re talking about here. Like ‘The Raid:Redemption’, ‘Dredd’ isn’t a movie, it’s a video game. There isn’t a story here, just a premise – infiltrate a drug kingpin located on the top floor of a 200-story building. This requires the film’s characters to shoot their way out of some grimy hallways at each level. Those in favor of gun ownership may enjoy much of what’s offered here. Karl Urban’s chin gives a solid performance underneath that metal helmet – not since Linda Lovelace’s ‘Deep Throat’ from 1972 has a film relied entirely on the mouth of it’s central performer. And Olivia Thirlby’s work is on the pancake side of flat – I’m falling asleep just thinking back to her.

The video game style ultra-violence became nauseating for me. There is a singular spectacular slow motion 3-D effect which is used to communicate that a character is on a drug which is called Slow-Mo. Naturally, Slow-Mo makes time go reeeeaaaallllyyyy ssssllllooowww. An example of this is when a lady lifts her arm out of a bathtub, and the water looks like diamonds dripping off her body – yes, this is a cool effect the first time we see it. But, then it becomes gimmicky because this technique is used repeatedly to the point of exhaustion. Prospective filmmakers of this genre, please listen: stunts and special effects alone do not make a movie. You need to have a story that’s worth telling, not a premise that serves as an excuse for shoot ‘em up violence. You need to have characters that are well drawn, not artificial constructs. This film, like ‘The Raid’ is the cinematic equivalent of watching a pack of lions tear into each other. We know some will die, but in the end, we don’t care which ones. These pictures suffer from the absence of a human element. Karl Urban has agreed to participate in the film’s inevitable sequels. Perhaps next time, we can hope for a side of story and character to complement our big order of big, loud special effects.

– Jerry Nadarajah

TIFF12 Midpoint Review

I’m thrilled to be back at the 36th annual Toronto International Film Festival. Last year’s festival was a huge success featuring high profile films such as ‘The Descendants’, ‘Moneyball’, ‘Pina’, the eventual Oscar winner for Best Picture ‘The Artist’, and the eventual Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film (my personal favorite of 2011) ‘A Separation’. This year, the festival features 400+ films at 11 different venues where auditorium seating ranging from 200 to 3,000 seats. As a regular TIFF-goer, I can say with certainty that the films at the festival are an indication of the level of quality of films that will be released during the Fall season. Four of the five previous Oscar winners for Best Pictures were pictures that were hugely successful with audience members during TIFF (‘The Hurt Locker’ is the only recent Best Picture winner that wasn’t featured at the festival). For those of you who are tired of the superheroics, bloated sequels, and unnecessary remakes so far this year, I am here to offer words of comfort: there is some fresh filmmaking on the way. We’re at the midpoint of the festival, and I wanted to mention three films which really impacted me.

Rust & Bone (Jacques Autiard)

The film stars Marion Cotillard as a whale trainer at a Marineland who loses both her legs in an accident. She develops a relationship with a bouncer who moonlights as a bare-knuckle boxer. The bouncer (Matthias Schoenarts) is struggling to make ends meet. He has a five-year-old son and is practically homeless. He is a brute, but has to learn show kindness to his son and to Cotillard. He eventually helps bring her back into life, and she helps him find his way. A beautiful romance, but also gritty and tough, and well deserving of its MPAA R-rating. This is a master class of acting, and Marion Cotillard deserves serious Oscar consideration for Best Actress. It’s by far the finest performance I’ve seen all year – a template of technical acting: a quiet, stripped bare performance that doesn’t wallow in self pity. We get the sense that we are watching real people, not character types or Hollywood constructs – people we can discuss like members of our own family. Films such as ‘Rust & Bone’ are why I became a fan of cinema. Autiard’s previous film was ‘The Prophet’, another huge success at TIFF in 2009.

The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg)

Mads Mikkelsen – you may not know the name now, but I’m willing to bet that you will eventually. I’m certain his terrific performance in this new Danish film will grab the attention of Hollywood casting directors for future projects. Mikkelsen’s character finds his life turned upside down when a five-year-old student suggests that he exposed himself to her. This quickly escalates from an absurd statement to fact without any supporting evidence. Set in a small town, Mikkelsen soon finds his entire community against him. His innocence is clear from the beginning – there is no ambiguity or doubt, and we as an audience are with him every step of the way as he becomes the target of mass hysteria. What I really loved about ‘The Hunt’ is its sense of place – the film is specific about its setting but its themes are universal. This is a small town in Denmark where everyone knows each other – we know Mikkelsen’s character is innocent even if the town doesn’t, and it is heartbreaking to see what he has to go through. I think ‘The Hunt’ deserves Oscar consideration for Best Foreign Film. This isn’t the sort of picture that is exclusive to arthouse aficionados – it has great potential for crossover appeal. I hope it finds an audience. One of the great moviegoing experiences I’ve had this year.


The Impossible (Juan Antonio Bayona)

Bayona’s previous film was a horror film called ‘The Orphanage’. The horror he has chosen to depict this time is one that is very real – the Indian Ocean earthquake and Tsunami which devastated Southeast Asia in 2004. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play a couple vacationing in Indonesia during Christmas with their three kids. The opening disaster sequences is complete and convincing with visceral use of sound – one of the most horrifying and emotionally draining sequences ever put on film. The wave scatters and badly wounds the family members. This movie is an account of these family members fearfully seeking each other amidst tens of thousands of strangers caught in the mayhem of this natural catastrophe. Impressive performances all around – we’ve come to expect exceptional work from Naomi Watts, and Ewan McGregor, so I’m going to call out a very young talent in this film, Tom Holland. Breathtaking production design, terrifying special effects, uniformly excellent performances, and an emotionally involving story; the rare sort of film that makes you hopeful for humanity. One that sees a tragic event as revealing the best aspects of people.

– Jerry Nadarajah

The Words

‘The Words’ is a film about, well, words – more specifically, the act of producing words, known as writing. For a movie about writing, which could involve some compelling characters, an involving narrative, and good use of language, ‘The Words’ is frustrating, and less complex than it thinks it is. Directed by first-time filmmaker Brian Klugman, the movie follows a writer (Bradley Cooper), at the peak of his literary success, discovering the price he must pay for plagiarizing the work of another writer. The cast also includes Jeremy Irons whose character sets the plot in motion, and Zoe Saldana as the supportive wife. There is also Dennis Quaid, who reads from his new novel ‘The Words’, which is about the Bradley Cooper plagiarism story; there’s also Olivia Wilde, a grad student who is very interested in Quaid’s new book. Are you following this story-within-story structure? I promise my plot description above is more clearly presented and dramatically compelling than anything transpiring on the screen with ‘The Words’. I must admit the performances are great, especially from Jeremy Irons who plays a more vulnerable character than we’re used to seeing. Bradley Cooper, an actor I’ve always considered more lucky than talented, is almost good enough in this to make me retract that claim. A big problem here though is the narrative, which spells everything out. Characters’ actions, which we as an audience should be processing, and emotions we should be feeling are spoon fed to us by Quaid’s character. Hemmingway is also referenced a number of times – after all, he did lose his manuscript in a briefcase on a train. Why couldn’t the movie be about that instead – or about Cooper’s character fraudulently publishing Hemmingway’s lost manuscript? That would automatically eliminate some superfluous characters. Same goes for its recursive storytelling structure. I’m not asking for a more conventional film. But, like a good book, I should be immersed in its literary world and not reading it at arms length. QED.  

– Jerry Nadarajah