Movies in Vancouver this weekend: new releases
Science fiction, haunted houses and even the Easter Bunny get a make-over at the movies this week. There's also a cliché-free sports story, a gruelling survival epic and a subtle meditation on some really big matters of life and death.
Here's the menu:
Source Code 3 1/2 stars
Win Win 3 1/2
Le Quattro Volta 4
La Nostra Vita 3
Essential Killing 3 1/2
Exit 67 --
The Last Godfather --
SOURCE CODE: Like with most any time travel story, you have to buy in and not let logic get too much in the way. Do that and you’re in for an engaging, often suspenseful good time. This is the follow up to last year’s strong sci fi film Moon from director Duncan Jones. (He’ll probably get tired soon of us reminding you that he’s David Bowie’s son). This time he’s got a thriller set on a train, in a lab and in one man’s mind.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays a man who wakes up on a commuter train heading to Chicago. He doesn’t know the woman sitting opposite him (Michelle Monaghan) but she claims to know him. By another name. The mirror shows him as another man too. Then the train explodes. He wakes up in a lab and we learn he’s part of a “time realignment” project that allows his consciousness to be sent into a man’s brain for all of eight minutes before he dies. (No, don’t question it. Just take the ride.) He’s sent back to that train over and over again to find the bomb and the bomber. The sequence repeats just like in Groundhog Day and becomes more involving each time. There are multiple complications too, as well as a breathless pace and an intelligent script. I saw only one sign that this was filmed in Montreal. Comedian Russell Peters is one of the passengers. (Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 3 ½ out of 5
WIN WIN: Wrestling is the vehicle; family is the real subject of this appealing new film with Paul Giamatti. It’s a third film from Thomas McCarthy who previously charmed us with The Station Agent and The Visitor. One again his subject is the coming together of diverse personalities in an unlikely association; a family if you will. Giamatti plays a New Jersey lawyer beset by mundane problems in life (a dying tree, a clunking boiler, a plug-prone toilet) and big financial problems in his practice. A little scam to collect $1500 monthly for acting as guardian for an old man solves that but brings on bigger challenges when the man’s grandson shows up.
Remarkably, he’s a gifted wrestler and just what Giamatti needs for the sad-sack team he coaches on the side. Predictably, their rapport falls apart when the teen learns details of the scam and his mother also shows up, newly out of rehab, claiming she’s the rightful guardian, for a fee of course. Alex Shaffer plays the closed-up teen perfectly, although he was hired for his wrestling abilities first. Amy Ryan plays Giamatti’s wife with clear but unforced decency and Bobby Cannavale brings comic relief as a friend who wants to be an assistant coach. “Because I’m fun,” he says. The film is honest and free of clichés, but a little too-evenly charted. It could use some emotional peaks to go along with its incisive observations about people. (5th Avenue Cinemas and International Village) 3 ½ out of 5
HOP: Forget the hype that this is “from the creators of Despicable Me.” (Same animation studio, same writers). Hop isn’t nearly as clever and doesn’t have one-tenth the heart of that mega-hit from last year. Another corner of its heritage has this more revealing information: from the director of Alvin and the Chipmunks and the second Garfield movie, the even-worse-than-the-first one. These films pander to children with souped-up pop culture, facile plots and little to stimulate their imagination. The son of the Easter Bunny, for instance, (voiced by Russell Brand) wants to be a rock and roll drummer and runs away to Hollywood. There he’s run down by and then reluctantly befriended by another work-avoiding son (James Marsden).
The two make a good pair. Marsden acts suitably put-upon and Brand is unusually restrained as the chatty rabbit. (He’ll be back in typical loud form next week in the re-make of Arthur.) The problem this week is too few laughs and a clumsy story. The real Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Laurie, using his real English accent) wants his son to succeed him and is faced with a coup d’etat by a Latino foreman, a chicken who feels he deserves the top job.
There are plot points that don’t go anywhere and others that play to parents, not children. The bunny wears a Stax records T-shirt. David Hasselhoff recognizes his musical talent and offers this explanation, “Hey, my best friend is a talking car.” And, probably a first for a kid’s movie: the voice of Hugh Hefner. He informs the bunny that he’s the wrong kind to be welcome at the mansion. Explain that joke to your six-year-old. (International Village, Dolphin, Dunbar and many suburban theatres) 2 out of 5
INSIDIOUS: An old favorite is back, the haunted house movie. It’s been pushed aside far too long by the graphic horror of slasher films and recently by the more disturbing torture porn. Ironically, James Wan and Leigh Whannell, the two men who kicked off that latter trend with their Saw films are now saying it’s over. With Insidious they’re delivering delicious, creepy scares without gross-out gore. There’s even a séance, something we’ve seen only in comedies for quite some time.
Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne play parents who move into a new house with their three children. They’re startled by creaks and bumps in the night but an accident that sends a son into a coma has them terrified. Doctors can’t help or explain. The wife hears voices on the baby monitor and sees a spooky figure outside the window. Her mother-in-law (Barbara Hershey) reports dreaming she saw a demon in the boy’s room. When another house move changes nothing, it dawns on them all, it’s not the house that’s haunted; it’s the boy. A paranormal investigator says he’s lost in “the further” a sort of astral projection limbo and the father has to go in and get him. The film starts mellow, gets nicely ominous and eventually greatly overheated. It’s works though, by bringing along the spooky atmosphere of films like Poltergeist and the realism of the Paranormal Activity films. (Scotiabank and several suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
LE QUATTRO VOLTE (The Four Times): This film from Italy is a work of art and not for just anybody. There’s no dialogue; just pictures and natural sounds. It ponders reality along with the metaphysical. Initially you’ll worry that it’s one of those art house films that has the camera staying too long on a scene with nothing happening. It does some of that but soon you and the film compromise. You adjust to its rhythm and it picks up the pace. From then on you have every possibility of being hooked.
An old goat herder in Calabria is first up in this visual meditation on a theory by Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher who started a religious colony in southern Italy. He proposed that all living things cycle through four stages: human, animal, vegetable and mineral. When the old man dies, a goat is born. (In a very funny sidebar, the whole herd gets loose and wanders everywhere in the town).
A tree is next, after a touching segment in which the baby goat is lost in a snowstorm, and finally an ancient process of turning the tree into charcoal. Everyone of the four stages is photographed beautifully, sometimes with funny interludes, and always true to the rhythms of small town life. We see an Easter crucifixion march, prepared and carried out. We see a maypole erected and chopped down and a funeral procession. The sequences are all mysteriously fascinating and, even without words and a plot, do add up to a complete story. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5
LA NOSTRA VITA (Our Life): "It's time to start living. Forget the memories," a young single father is told in a pretty good summary of the theme of this amiable film from Italy. He's just lost his wife (she died in childbirth). He's raising three children and having to resort to blackmail to get ahead. In return for keeping quiet about an immigrant’s death on a construction site, he’s given a project of his own to supervise. He’s not a good manager, though, and has to deal with grumbling workers, loan sharks, the dead man’s son and even his widow, with whom he has an affair.
The story has too many coincidences to ring true and winds up too conveniently. But it is gentle, engaging and very well acted. Elio Germano, the lead, won the best-actor award at Cannes (in a tie with Javier Bardem) possibly for a powerful scene singing along angry to a record at his wife’s funeral mass. He does something even more impressive in the rest of the film, portraying an ordinary guy trying to make do and making it feel real. Also real and entirely modern are the hot topics in the background, like illegal immigration and the under-the-table work Italians call “Frosinone.” (VanCity) 3 out of 5
ESSENTIAL KILLING: Whatever it takes is reduced to its most basic and elemental form in this survival tale. The lead character, played by Vincent Gallo, doesn’t even say a word. At one point he lets out an angry screech; most of his vocal contributions are gasping and puffing because he’s always on the run. (Gallo won a best actor award at the Venice film festival for the range of emotions he manages to convey with just face and body language).
He seems to be a Taliban in Afghanistan who blasts three Americans with a bazooka and is pursued by helicopters, ground soldiers and their dogs. There are flashbacks periodically to his military and religious training with messages like: “It was not you who slew them. It was Allah.” When he’s caught, he’s shipped to one of those black CIA sites in Eastern Europe, interrogated and tortured. He escapes during a prisoner transfer and is on the run again, this time through deep snow, leading to bad encounters with a leg-hold trap, a falling tree and a breastfeeding mom. He’s forced to eat ants and kill a logger with a chainsaw before the film’s improbable and somewhat cryptic ending. It’s been a gripping ride though, from Jerzy Skolimowski, the Polish director who’s filmography stretches back to the early 1960s. (International Village) 3 ½ out of 5
Also playing …
EXIT 67: What’s the attraction of gangs for immigrant youths? It’s a recurring question asked in Surrey, in Toronto’s Jane and Finch area and, in this film, in Montreal’s St. Michel district. That’s one of the poorest neighborhoods in Canada and home to a large Haitian community. The director, Jepthé Bastien, made the film to come to terms with the death of a nephew, killed in a gangland slaying four years ago.
It’s raw and violent. As in many American films, there are gunfights, drug deals and family breakdown. A mixed-race boy sees his father kill his mother, is sent to a series of foster homes and then finds a new family in a gang. Eventually he’s faced with the decision to stay or go straight. The film is a vehicle to examine social issues in the Haitian community and, according to one reviewer “does manage to create a glimpse into a part of Montreal that is real and that is rough without romanticizing or being preachy.” It won a special Genie award recently and could be interesting but arrives here without fanfare. FYI: Cirque du Soleil’s headquarters is in the area and the MP is Justin Trudeau. His main opponent in the current election is a local Haitian woman. (Granville Theatre)
THE LAST GODFATHER: A Mafia boss (just like the Easter Bunny in Hop) wants to groom his son to succeed him. The boy is the illegitimate lovechild he fathered in South Korea, and apparently quite simple in the head. (He’s even named Younggu, which in Korean means 'idiot').
He’s brought over to New York anyway and given gangster lessons. He manages to fall in love with the daughter of a rival gang boss and trigger an all-out gang war. Harvey Keitel is the father and Jason Mewes, the drug-addled player in many Kevin Smith movies, is also in the cast. But this is really a project by Hyung-rae Shim, a popular TV comedian in Korea, now busy in the movies. He wrote, directed, produced and stars as Younggu. It’s broad slapstick that’s gotten a rough ride from people who saw it over there and posted comments like “puerile drivel” at imdb. (Granville Theatre and Silver Cities in Coquitlam and Richmond)
NOTE: The photos are supplied by the movie studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.