Category Archives: Meh!

The Mountain Between Us – Director, Hany Abu-Assad


The Mountain Between UsOf all the movies I seen this week this is by far the worst. I chose it because I am a big fan of Idris Elba and figured that despite the description it might be very good. Wrong! This is a romance/adventure film but no rom/com this. Two people are stranded on a mountain to in Colorado after a small plane crash. How they get into the situation is somewhat contrived… well totally contrived actually. But all that aside they then have to figure out how to survive and get down along with their faithful dog (another contrivance). They are very different people in background and personality with back stories that are revealed as we go along. Of course, as they struggle with each other and the elements, they fall in love – of course they do. The story of their survival is literally unbelievable and the dog – OMG – survives for 4 weeks with no food and yet maintains his full fledged strength and enthusiasm throughout the ordeal. I kept looking at my watch and wishing it would end. Thank God the audience did not need to suffer through a Q and A. I did see an interview with Idris Elba on the Daily Show prior to going to the movie and that set off alarm bells because he clearly did not take the movie seriously and seemed not to like it very much. Now to be fair people behind my row exclaimed how much they loved the movie at the end and there were others equally enthralled. So I guess if you love romance stories, no matter how absurd, this is a movie for you but if not stay very far away. There are much better ones coming this fall.

Eric Clapton: A Life in 12 Bars – Director, Lili Fini Zanuck


I was really looking forward to this movie and seeing Eric Clapton live although without a guitar. Well… I did see Eric but sadly I left the movie early totally bored and a little pissed off. The film is not very much about his music and much more about his messed-up life which I really did not need to know about. It went on and on as he bounced from one failed relationship to another including a really messed up on with the wife of his good buddy George Harrison. Also we delved into his drug and alcohol abuse until I thought it would never end. While he had a surprise in learning that his real mother abandoned him, he was actually raised very lovingly by his grandparents, was reasonably well off and after Cream dissolved, very very rich. So all this “suffering” happened at his mansion in Surrey or his friend’s homes in South Kensington, two of the wealthiest places on earth. He never suffered for lack of money and we heard lots about just hanging around the mansion with his friends and various girl friends doing cocaine and dope and ultimately heroin and then alcohol. The movie really started to drag and I left near the end thinking this guy really had no excuse for all this. Sadly this movie has spoiled Eric for me. I will take a break from listening to his music for a bit and hope it will not last because his latest stuff is very good but this demented wallowing in his so-called sorry life was just too much. If you are a big fan and love his music and his suffering for sure enjoy. However if you would rather not be bothered by that  just put on Layla (don’t worry what inspired it) and don’t let this movie spoil it for you.

PACmen, Director – Luke Walker

A political film – what else? I was intrigued by this film and its description which suggested it was a look at how super PACs are used to win votes and drive the US political elections. One of the interesting things about verité documentaries is the risk. Directors pick a time, person or institution and get invitations to follow and observe. This is very much the technique for Brother’s Keeper which was one of the first documentaries to use this kind of approach. Many of the other films at this year’s festival used this technique to great success. This film also sought and got access to Ben Carson’s run for office in the last US Election and to the super PAC’s that supported him. In this case we are looking at Christian evangelists who tried to put together the resources to get their man nominated. Carson of course self destructed and instead of gaining insight into how super PACs have had a powerful impact on elections we see incompetence at both the level of the super PAC and the candidate. A sad but sympathetic look at Carson himself but for providing insight into the US political situation the film fails totally. Not so great unless you are a Carson fan.

Step, Director — Amanda Lipitz

Step is a dance/exercise program that is the focus of this documentary. The title and the description were a bit misleading but basically this is about a program in Baltimore to give a group of primarily female black kids from disadvantaged neighborhoods a shot at College and escape. The step program is part of the curriculum at The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women. The girls are preparing for a state step championship as well as preparing to be the first graduating class from the school. Of course, the film is inspiring and all the girls make it. Not only winning the state championship but also all making it to College. The Director was present for a Q and A where I lost some respect for the film and its subject. The Director is rich, very rich and comes from a very rich family. She is a producer of Broadway shows and her mother, in an act of charity funded the Baltimore school in which this film is based. The school is a charter school and admission is limited although handled by lottery. So the girls who get in are lucky, very lucky and there is no other option of similar quality for the rest of the population in similar poverty in Baltimore. The director was confronted about this by one member of the audience but declined to respond saying: “I don’t want to get into that controversy”. Sadly this is the real point. The US is increasingly relying on charity or profit motive to provide quality education to kids rather than a robust public education system. This will be enhanced under the Trump presidency and Betsy DeVos the new Secretary of Education. The contrast to my perception was a group of girls from Jane/Finch who were also part of a step program who cheered the movie big time. I think sadly they did not understand the larger issue. I should also note that while some of the docs at the festival do have support from major funders like Netflix and Amazon, this film has been picked up for distribution by 20th Century Fox. Of course. For more of my leftist attitude on this issue please see the review of For Ahkeem.

Blurred Lines: Inside the Art World, Director – Barry Avrich

I was somewhat disappointed by this film. Being a leftie of the best sort I read the description of this film and was attracted to the description of a film that would look at the insane world of art auctions and collecting that carried on despite the horrendous impact of the economic crisis of 2008. So at the start they mention the crash but then just carry on describing the world of art auctions, the buyers, the artists who feed off the insane amounts of money and agents who promote both. Rather than being particularly critical of it, the film makes no judgement other than to describe it and in some sense to be envious of the various players in the business. Some interviews with artists suggest they are not entirely happy with the situation and its unfairness to many but that is about as far as it goes. The rest of the film is simply a glimpse into the activities of some of the one percenters and how little they care about the rest of us.

Arrival – Director, Denis Villeneuve


This movie has been very well received and is nominated for eight Oscars, five of which are technical for design, sound, editing etc. The three big ones are Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. Okay… all that said I am very nervous to write this review. I did not like this movie. It I like Close Encounters of the Third Kind in terms of the message but is not nearly close to being as good. I think some critics like it because it is not Alien or other thriller type Sci-Fi. It has pretensions of being cerebral but it was boring, contrived, and the ending was just stupid and really disappointing. Amy Adams is the lead and her performance has been praised but thank God the Academy had enough sense not to nominate her for Best Actress because while good, she is not amazing and the role is dumb like the movie. Villeneuve is Canadian and I have liked and disliked his films. Sicario is very good but Prisoners was really disappointing. Incendies which made his career was okay. He is working on a sequel of Blade Runner, not a remake but a story set 30 or 40 years in the future from the original. It will star Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. I am worried because Blade Runner was awesome but this?… I am not sure this is wise.

Deepwater Horizon – Peter Berg


I had some trepidation when I ordered tickets to this one but it had Mark Wahlberg and it was about one of the worst oil spill disasters in history and maybe, just maybe they would do a good job. I was sadly disappointed. Although they do try in a minor way to pin this on British Petroleum there is absolutely no message here about environmental issues or the irresponsibility of the oil industry to prevent these kinds of situations. Instead it is literally all about the night of the blow out and the desperate acts of the men and women on the rig to escape. The film is very confusing. Dialogue is hard to make out over the simulated din of the machines, you have no idea who the characters are, what their roles are, what the relationships are between the workers or why the disaster happened at all.  No attempt is made  to explain how all the systems on board would fail simultaneously. And the film is loud, wear ear plugs if you go. The attempts at escape are also very confusing and we have two hours of screaming, shouting, explosions, fire and gross injuries. I left the film feeling angry and stressed and I usually can handle an action film like Jason Bourne but this was literally just stupid. If you get the impression I was not impressed you are picking up the right vibes. Stay away or if you must watch it – wait for it to show up on Netflix or iTunes.

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, Director – Joseph Cedar


I am not yet sure how to review this film. It tells the story of Norman Oppenheimer, a Jewish middle man or fixer in NYC. The character also called a macher in Yiddish is not an uncommon character in the city. He is a person who connects people with money and sets up deals of which he will take a cut. In this film Norman gets out of his comfort zone when he tries to set up deals with visiting Israeli politicians and local businessmen. The problem with the film is that pretty much everyone sees Norman as a bit of a con man and clearly have little or no respect for him. His lawyer nephew and his rabbi give him a bit of a break but otherwise he appears pretty pathetic. The film and the plot are in my opinion completely unbelievable. The moderate rise is about him making friends with a deputy minister from the Israeli government who later manages to become prime minister. Norman has a real connection with the man but the difference between their worlds means that nothing Norman tries to set up will ever work and in fact he becomes a threat to the PM by his machinations. Again all this seems totally unbelievable for a penny ante operator like Norman. Richard Gere is very good in the role and in introducing the film the director warned us the character of Norman will stay with us long after the film is over. Sadly, Norman is already fading from my memory and I am grateful. A film that I thought had great potential when I got my ticket but is now the weakest film of the week and really a very disappointing experience.

La La Land, Director – Damien Chazelle


So I will start this review with a confession. I really am not a fan of musicals. Some, like An American in Paris or West Side Story get past my prejudices but most do not. I chose this film because there is lots of buzz about it and to be fair it is very well done. The other reason I chose this one is that the director also did Whiplash last year which is a very powerful film and not a musical. It was tough and polished and so I thought I would give this a chance. My verdict is that this is a very good movie, if you like musicals and romantic stories. If either or both of these are not your game stay very far away. Still, again to be fair, the two leads, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone turn in great performances. But… the somewhat twist ending really made me gag which, if you like romantic twists, will endear the film to you and have you leaving with a smile and wee tear in your eye. Yes its like that. I will say one thing. The film has some very good jazz in it and is built around the lead’s love of jazz to some extent just not nearly enough for me. Attend at your own risk unless, like I say, you love that sort of thing. Okay one more kick at the can. The film has great cinematography and set design. Use of colour is great as well and it is a real homage to the Hollywood musical of the past but moved into the 21st century film technology. The music and dancing (and it’s a musical after all) I found to be forgettable but its all about the story right?

De Palma – Directors, Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow

This film is very highly rated on Rotten Tomatoes and IMdB but I was less impressed. Sure it is great to see a film that looks at one of the 20th Century’s most successful directors but it is one of the most sycophantic and self indulgent films I have seen in some time. Yes, I liked some of De Palma’s films: The Untouchables and Mission Impossible but that is about where it ends and really these are in some cases great trash but there is really nothing here that deserves the adulation this man gets. The film focuses on him – long interviews in which he praises himself unequivolently. I found it a bit tiresome in the end. He talks about his work and how it developed over time and how he learned so much from the masters like Hitchcock and Truffaut but how luckily he was able to improve on them all. He noted at one point how directors begin to fade in time and points to how after Psycho, Hitchcock really lost it and did not make another worthwhile film. He, De Palma, of course has not suffered the same fate. So while some of you may be bit fans of the guy and will enjoy seeing him congratulate himself on his amazing career, I would suggest the rest of you wait until a more appropriately critical study is made so you will learn something useful rather than suffer through self praise.