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Johnny Depp’s mind turns arrogant in Transcendence, Jude Law gets nasty in Dom Hemingway and Bears charm for Earth Day

Volkmar Richter
Apr 18th, 2014

Transcendence offers a thin debate on the potential and the danger of artificial intelligence

Easter time and the movies are known to honor it or disregard it. This week you can learn all about one of the world’s most famous churches, mark the return of spring with a family of bears or recapture the joy of love. You can also do quite the opposite in some of the films on this list:


Transcendence:  3  stars

Dom Hemingway:  3

Bears:  4

Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation:  3 ½

The Face of Love: 3

Trailer Park Boys: Don’t Legalize It:  2  

That Demon Within:  2


TRANSCENDENCE:  As a cinematographer, Wally Pfister is excellent. Check out Inception for which he won an Academy Award or The Dark Knight, for which he was nominated. But as a director, in this his first film, he grapples with big story points that get away from him. I just wasn’t convinced by pretty well anything going on here.

Draft Day shows the business side of pro sports, and That Burning Feeling is a funny Vancouver comedy

Volkmar Richter
Apr 10th, 2014

What does a sports team General Manager do anyway? Kevin Costner shows us in Draft Day.

Two films from Asia top my choices this week, with a Vancouver comedy and an odd-ball rock documentary close behind.

Here’s the list:

Draft Day: 3 stars

The Raid 2: 3 ½

Journey to the West:  4

Mistaken for Strangers: 3 ½

Sex After Kids:  --

That Burning Feeling:  3

Oculus:  2 ½

Rio 2: --


DRAFT DAY: The Canucks may have, by firing Mike Gillis, hiring Trevor Linden and searching for a new general manager, made this sports film a little more interesting. It takes us right inside a pro team and shows what a general manager’s job really is. Granted it’s in American football, not hockey, and on a particularly drama-filled day, when teams maneuver and deal to get the players they want in the college draft. But we do feel all the pressures they’re under. They’re stacked up densely in this film directed by Ivan Reitman.


Captain America Takes on Robert Redford; Donald Rumsfeld doesn’t give an inch and Jason Priestley makes a movie

Volkmar Richter
Apr 4th, 2014

Comic book fantasy mixes with real-world politics at the movies this week

The Marvel universe is expanding again with a third visit by Captain America. Not for you? How about a celebrated film that never got made, visits to the Middle East and South Africa or checking out two Canadian films and our best-known director.

There on this list:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier:  3 stars

The Unknown Known:  2 ½

Cas & Dylan:  3

Bethlehem:   3 ½

South African Film Fest:  various

Jodorowsky’s Dune:  4

The films of David Cronenberg:  various

Afflicted:  1 ½ 


Noah and his ark like you’ve never seen before, plus two Vancouver and a lot of French films

Volkmar Richter
Mar 27th, 2014

Russell Crowe is the moody zealot and ark builder Noah.


Noah is by far the biggest movie this week. Its budget of $130 million says that all by itself. But are Biblical epics back? This one throws in more action that you’d expect to help out.

Notice also, there are two Vancouver films on this list.

Noah: 3 ½ stars

Bad Words: 2 ½

Kayan: 3 ½

3 Days in Havana: 2 ½ 

Divers Ciné:  various


NOAH:  This is like no version of the Noah’s Ark story I’ve encountered before. Did you know there was a horde of wild warriors fighting to also get on to the ark? Or that their leader did get on and that led to a knife fight with Noah? How about the Watchers, giant rock monsters that Ray Harryhausen might have imagined years ago? They help build and then defend the ark. You get all that in this action-disaster film that often feels and looks like a Lord of the Rings clone.

Divergent, Le Week-End and Nymphomaniac work well; the new Muppets film disappoints

Volkmar Richter
Mar 21st, 2014

Mature or not, women get the most consideration in the movies this week.

It’s a great week for new movies. Look at all the high marks. Many are women’s stories but scroll down far enough and you’ll also find movies about gays sunbathing and one distraught husband.

Here’s the list:

Le Week-End:  4 stars

Divergent:  3

Nymphomaniac:  3

Muppets Most Wanted:  2

The Lunchbox:  4

The Husband:    3 ½

Stranger By the Lake:  4


LE WEEK-END:  This is a version of what I wrote during VIFF last fall.  The director of Venus and Notting Hill (Roger Michell) and the writer of My Beautiful Laundrette (Hanif Kureishi) have created another smart comedy with serious undertones. And two fine English actors and a superior American one make it come alive. Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan play a couple who’ve been married 30 years and go to Paris on their anniversary. They are comfortable with each other, bantering and needling amiably, but find their cozy bond tested by personal differences that have grown and surprise them. 

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is tops, while Canadian films Enemy and Down River respectable

Volkmar Richter
Mar 14th, 2014

Ralph Fiennes, Jake Gyllenhaal and Helen Shaver star in the week’s leading films.

After The Grand Budapest Hotel, this week’s must see, notice the five films with a Canadian connection. Enemy was made in Toronto by a Quebecois filmmaker. Down River is Ben Ratner’s homage to the memory of his friend Babz Chula. Asphalt Watches vamps on a hitchhiking trip that started here and Blackfish studies a killer whale starting in Victoria. Need for Speed? Well, just read what inspired it.

Here’s the list:

The Grand Budapest Hotel:  4 ½ stars

Enemy:  3

Down River:  3 ½

Need for Speed:  2

Asphalt Watches:  3 ½

Veronica Mars:  --

Hong Kong Films:  --

No Clue, Like Father Like Son, Peabody & Sherman and 300: new films ranging from bland to sublime

Volkmar Richter
Mar 7th, 2014

Ancient Greece, retro Vancouver and modern Tokyo are new on the big screen

You want big, bloody action, quiet laughs or a poignant heart-tugger? Check the list. They’re all here.

Like Father, Like Son: 4 stars

300: Rise of an Empire:  2 ½

No Clue: 2 ½

Mr. Peabody & Sherman: 3

Alan Partridge: 3

Women in Film Festival:

Cheap Thrills: 2


LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON: The nature-nurture dichotomy gets a particularly moving and deceptively low-key examination in this Japanese film that won a big award at Cannes and was an audience favourite at last fall’s Vancouver film festival. You won’t be able to stop yourself from getting intensely wrapped up in it yourself. Two families are suddenly shaken to learn each has a son that’s not theirs. A hospital switch six years earlier has sent them home with the wrong boy. But they’ve raised and loved him. How can they correct the problem? Or should they? The dilemma goes beyond heartfelt to heart-wrenching.


Two Oscar-nominated films finally arrive in town, plus there’s trouble on a plane and in underclass England

Volkmar Richter
Feb 28th, 2014

Hayao Miyazaki’s last movie, The Wind Rises, is one of the late-comer Oscar nominees to open here. Omar is the other.


Just two days before the Academy Awards, we get two more of the nominees. Hardly time to rate them for an Oscar pool. Catch them anyway.  Also checks out the two teenage Brits who improvise to survive in a dull grey England in The Selfish Giant. And if you want more from Russia, there are two films for you.

Here’s the entire list:

The Wind Rises:  3 ½ stars

Omar:  4

Non-Stop:  2 ½

The Selfish Giant:  3 ½

Visitors:  2

Son of God:  --

Stalingrad: --

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer: --


Gravity, 12 Years a Slave and more films I expect will win at the Academy Awards

Volkmar Richter
Feb 26th, 2014

Chiwetel Ejifor, Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender are all nominated for 12 Years a Slave but I think only the film will win

I’ve got a feeling that the Academy Awards on Sunday night are going to be quite anti-climactic. In the sense that there won’t be many surprises.

The winners have been pretty consistent in the many other awards leading up to the Oscars. In the major categories, I can see only three actual contests.

So with the proviso that this is not what will happen, but what might happen, here are my predictions.

BEST PICTURE: 12 Years a Slave has the momentum as well as superior quality. Also, it’s a historically “important” film. Academy voters seem to like that. Remember, they’re mostly older white males with liberal tendencies.

What the film does not have is a big take at the box office and on second viewing parts of it come off as slow.  Consequently, I think the unusual will happen for a second year in a row: Best Picture and Best Director will not go to the same film.

Pompeii is buried, spies shoot up Europe and the nature of art is considered in the week’s new movies

Volkmar Richter
Feb 21st, 2014

A Toronto-generated vision of ancient Rome’s doomed city of Pompeii


The nature of art is front and center this week. Directly in films about a man obsessed with Vermeer’s paintings and an old sculptor who encounters a revival. Indirectly in a recreation of a famous disaster and a Europe-based spy-and-family hybrid.

Here’s the list:

Pompeii:  2 ½ stars

3 Days to Kill:  3

Tim’s Vermeer:  3 ½

The Artist and the Model  (part of New Spanish Cinema) 3 ½


POMPEII: The famous volcanic eruption gets yet another movie version –Canadian this time—and it’ll have you thinking of two or three completely unrelated films. It’s that derivative. Think Gladiator, Titanic and of any number of disaster movies. This one is from director Paul W.S. Anderson and the team that made the hit Resident Evil movies.

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