Outside the Law
A sweeping historical melodrama by Days of Glory director Rachid Bouchareb that takes a long, hard look at the Algerian independence movement and its brutal conflict with French counter-terrorism forces. Constructed as a family saga, it opens with the eviction of an Algerian peasant family from its land. The story of this injustice is picked up in post-World War II Europe with three brothers responding differently to the decline of colonialism. Bouchareb takes the story through France’s battle in Indochina, through the oppression of Algerian immigrants and the growing sense of nationalism. Although interesting for shedding light on one aspect of French colonial history, the narrative is too sprawling, and Bouchareb seems unwilling to face up to the complex moral issues of means and ends as he tries to get the audience rooting for his heroes.
If you’re looking to take mum for a bit of fun at the cinema as a Mother’s Day treat, this is probably not the film to see. That said, Mother’s Day is a top class horror/thriller by director Darren Lynn Bousman, who has been responsible for some of the more reprehensible Saw sequels. The plot follows a murderous family’s clash with a group of young yuppies in a home the criminals believe they owned. A hostage situation turns deadly with the arrival of the family matriarch, played with huge energy by Rebecca de Mornay of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle fame. Top notch entertainment, but definitely not for the fainthearted.
The latest offering for the romantically inclined teen market has Alex Pettyfer as a rich and arrogant youth who is hexed with ugliness by a witch and who has to be saved by a shy but determined young girl played by Vanessa Hudgens, who sees beneath his exterior to the fundamentally good person beneath. This is basically a remake of Beauty and the Beast in a modern, urban setting, and has annoyed critics, but as with films like the Twilight saga, is nevertheless likely to press all the right buttons for its target audience of pubescent young women longing for a romantic challenge.
Japanese action drama whose main attraction is seeing rising female martial arts star Rina Takeda do some incredible high kicks and other elaborate karate movies wearing a school girl outfit. Takeda looks pretty good in some karate training drills in the early part of the film, but when various exotic weaponry emerges, the fight sequences get a bit silly. Karate Girl boasts real action unaided by CGI or other cinematic trickery, but the story itself has little to offer. A young girl from a powerful martial arts family sees all her loved ones killed, hides away but is discovered when she inadvertently reveals her skills. On the run, she decides the only plan is to take the fight to the bad guys.
Revenge of the Factory Woman (與愛別離)
Romantic melodrama directed by Gavin Lin (林孝謙). Don’t be fooled by the English title: This is not a revenge thriller or a piece of social realism about life on the OEM factory floor. In fact, this is television soap put on the big screen, about people who fall in love, fall out of love, impregnate other people, then make improbable demands for no other reason other than to ensure that there is a story to tell. In the case of Revenge of the Factory Woman, a wife demands that she exchange babies with her husband’s mistress as a prerequisite for divorce. Predictably, this only gives rise to more anguish and tears.
High school drama about three very different students who become friends, and then become much, much more. All the usual high school stereotypes are trotted out, with Emmy Rossum as the over-achiever with something to prove, Ashley Springer as the sensitive student unsure about his sexuality, and Zach Gilford as the jock jerk rich kid who keeps secrets hidden behind his well groomed exterior. There is the occasional twist, and director Adam Salky takes a couple of risks with his characters, but this is not nearly enough to make Dare either brave or exciting.
From Prada to Nada
Nora and Mary Dominguez, two rich sisters, lose everything when their father dies and they are forced to relocate and live with an aunt on the wrong side of the tracks. Having spent a lifetime being “rich white girls,” they are thrown back into their Mexican roots and apart from discovering a brother they never knew about, they also find, you guessed it, romance and a new sense of self. The Latino stereotypes are thick on the ground in a narrative based very loosely on Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, but in the fantasy world of east LA in which the film is set, don’t expect too much piercing social commentary.
Danny DeVito slumming it in the straight-to-DVD market with this family comedy about an aging father who wants to get his slacker children out of the house and able to fend for themselves so that he and his wife can enjoy their retirement. The parents move out, and the kids learn to fend for themselves by taking in tenants. Hilarity ensues, only it doesn’t. Lots of tired slapstick and some raunchy bits for the lads, but House Broken is filler aimed at the lowest common denominator.
Kaasan, Mom’s Life
A live action feature based on a gently comic semi-autobiographical manga by Rieko Saibara that has already seen considerable success as an animated television series. The movie version, directed by Shotaro Kobayashi, goes firmly for the laughter and tears, relating the daily tribulations of a manga artist (played by Kyoko Koizumi) who is also a mother of two young children, and is also coping with a husband struggling first with alcoholism, and then with terminal illness. Get the tissues ready.
The Other Woman
Natalie Portman is very much the actress of the moment, and The Other Woman shows another aspect of her extensive range of dramatic talent. There are plenty of other reasons for watching The Other Woman, which include a sensational performance by Lisa Kudrow, who puts some humanity into a horrifying New York power-mom caricature. But overall, the characters are so incredibly privileged and filled with so much hate and anger, directed both at themselves and almost everyone around them, that for all its slick Woody Allen-esque dialogue, it is too narrow and self-involved to be particularly appealing.
A film by Icelandic filmmaker Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, Mamma Gogo tells the story of a film director, already mired in debt, who has to deal with an aging mother who is showing signs of falling victim to Alzheimer’s. The film has many strengths, not least Fridriksson’s assured work behind the camera, and a powerful performance by Kristbjorg Kjeld as the titular Mamma Gogo, a strong-willed woman who does not wish to go gentle into that good night. Despite the difficult subject matter, Fridriksson is able to combine humor with compassion.
Simple Simon (Irymden finns inga kanslor)
Swedish comedy about two bothers, Simon and Sam. Simon suffers from Asperger’s, and can be very rude and direct. His behavior drives away Sam’s girlfriend. Simon knows that one of the truths of his life is that he needs Sam, and that Sam needs a girlfriend. He develops a formula to find Sam the perfect match, but when he meets Jennifer (Cecilia Forss), he discovers that love is more than a formula. A strong performance by Bill Skarsgard, the youngest son of the well-known actor Stellan Skarsgard.
A romantic comedy in German from Tom Tykwer, whose recent English-language projects include the highly acclaimed Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006) and the big action thriller The International (2009). He has returned to his home turf with Three, a story about a triangular relationship between two men and a woman. Hanna and Simon are 40-something professionals with a long-established relationship. They are cool, they are liberal. Then they both fall in love with Adam, and Hanna becomes pregnant. The story is what you might expect of a film starring Jennifer Aniston, but the draw of Tykwer’s name may save it from oblivion.