Reviews | Arts & Culture | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST


Carsten Knox on this week’s cinematic offerings.

The Journals of Knud Rasmussen

For starters, the title is a bit of a misnomer. One could be forgiven for thinking of it as some kind of biopic of the storied Danish explorer and his Greenland and Northwest Passage adventures.

In fact, the film drops the audience into the Inuit culture of the early 20th century, very much like director Zacharais Kunuk’s first feature, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. The first act introduces the family around shaman Aua and his daughter Apak. Apak is still in love with her first husband, who has died, but she’s married now to a man she doesn’t care for. The visiting European explorers need to be escorted to a community further in the north, one that has converted to Christianity, so the travel and visit take up the second half of the film.

The epic scale and narrative cohesion of Atanarjuat is absent from Kunuk and co-director Norman Cohn’s new picture, creating rambling stretches requiring a great deal of patience, but what remains rich in the filmmaking is the authentic sense of culture and of place. Especially interesting is how the notion of spirits is incorporated into the story. Be aware of characters on the edges of the frame and the role they have to play in the overall plot, all of which becomes clear in the film’s emotional conclusion.

School for Scoundrels

Director Todd Phillips has become something of a name in Hollywood’s comedy universe, having helmed the hits Road Trip, Old School and Starsky & Hutch. This time out he delivers another mainstream comedy with a few solid gags that should satisfy fans of his earlier work, though probably not earn him any new ones.

Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) is Roger, a parking enforcement officer in New York with a jellied spine. His buddy Ian (David Cross) suggests he enrol in an esteem-building class taught by Dr. P (Billy Bob Thornton) and Lesher (Michael Clarke Duncan), a course akin to emotional boot camp.

Most of the big laughs come when Roger and his classmates—including former-SNLer Horatio Sanz and the under-appreciated Todd Louiso, who shone in High Fidelity and Snakes on a Plane—are instructed to incite conflict in their daily lives, subsequently getting their heads handed to them. When Roger gets the guts to ask out his building crush, Amanda (Jacinda Barrett), and Dr. P gets competitive, the rom-com elements undercut a lot of the nerd-bashing humour, as does another pointless cameo from Ben Stiller and the wasted presence of Sarah Silverman, a brilliant comedian criminally underused in most of the comedies in which she appears. That said, there is enough of the recognizable real world in School for Scoundrels to make the laughs genuine.

Cinema Palermo will return next week.

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