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THREE REVIEWS: INNOCENCE & CATINFLAS & WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL

year: 2014 rating: **
INNOCENCE: Books written for young girls are almost as cinematic as comic book adaptations… Or perhaps a better word than cinematic is popular since teen melodramas don't always make a perfect movie, and are only suited for their target audience…

If INNOCENCE wasn’t inspired by Tony Scott’s aesthetic Gothic horror THE HUNGER, it sure is a coincidence… The entire film, bathed in brooding alternative music and with homoerotic undertones, feels like an intentionally lethargic music video, and the characters sort of float through dreamlike scenery...

Especially lead ingénue Sophie Curtis as Beckett Warner, a vulnerable, virginal, and downright uninteresting teenager, the daughter of a famous author and whose mother dies in the beginning... She's a new student at an established preparatory academy where the teachers and the principle resemble supermodel women: tall, mysterious and stealthily formidable. The horror film aspect plays out in random hallucinatory jolts, but this is an ominous fable that takes time for the story to unfold… Unfortunately, it never quite does… Unlike a page-turning adaptation, INNOCENCE seems stuck on the prologue…

By the time we realize what the faculty is really up to – especially one lusty teacher, having an affair with Becket’s father – it’s apparent that this bland cult/coven film is much weirder than scary, and not very suspenseful.

year: 2014 rating: **1/2
CANTINFLAS: There’s a really clever scene in CANTINFLAS, a biopic of the Mexican actor who crossed over as David Niven’s sidekick in 80 DAYS AROUND THE WORLD, where, in the beginning of his career as a “tent show” performer, he’s rehearsing a scene with his new troupe and it seems like it’s really happening… This device remains throughout, and the biopic often seems more surreal than ordinary, especially with the gorgeous storybook cinematography...

Using two different time periods and countries along with subtitles in each language, we begin during the 1950’s where film producer Michael Todd is trying to gather a string of big stars for his Jules Verne adaptation... And then cut to the 1930s Mexico where Cantinflas, whose real name is Mario Moreno, goes from cleaning up a low rent theater to becoming the most famous actor in Mexico, and beyond…

The initial climb is involving. Mario, a failed boxer and wannabe bullfighter, finds his confidence on stage, but not after bombing a few times. His real gift was talking back at the audience and veering off the scripted page. And in the lead role, Óscar Jaenada looks the part and has the dynamic of a confident showman. Only he doesn’t seem like anyone that would become so famous, so quickly. 

Perhaps this is the fault of the rushed second half. As an unprepared Todd heads toward the imminent press conference, and Cantinflas refuses to be part of the production, we get a string of uneven montage sequences involving our hero’s reign on stage and screen. Meanwhile, his personal life, from random affairs to waging war on a crooked union, plays out like a soap opera – the only difference is, unlike Richard Attenborough's CHAPLIN starring Robert Downey Jr., we hardly know the subject well enough for his life’s work to matter as an accomplished whole. 

2014 rating: *1/2
WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL is an ironic title for this particular reviewer… Being a mega fan of the 70’s TV series THE WHITE SHADOW, GAME director Thomas Carter wasn’t so tall but could really play basketball…

After quitting his acting gig, he directed an eclectic assortment of films ranging from musicals to action flicks to… real life sports dramas… He even shot some of the SHADOW episodes, wherein each match, strategies and all, were scripted and fleshed-out beforehand… But let’s leave nostalgia behind…

Carter’s latest sports entry centers on a high school football team on a record-breaking winning streak of 150 games in a row. We begin with a montage of the team cleaning up on the field and taking no prisoners... Unfortunately so little time is spent with the team in full throttle that, when things slow down into sidestories of the departing seniors and their own problems, we forget there was a team at all, or, for that matter, a coach.

In the lead role, Jim Caviezel doesn’t have much input, and as an actor he falls into the trap of obviously having studied the real life Bob Ladouceur: if Jim's imitation is genuine, the coach isn't energetic or interesting enough to base an entire film on.

And after a ponderous, gloomy first half, GAME attempts to win back the sport-fan base with the climactic battle against the best high school team at that time, but our own team’s members – the juniors who had ruined the almighty streak – are so cliché and uninteresting, the victorious turnout is predictably anti-climactic. 
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