Fast Five, Prom, squabbling actors and a close-up look at a modern war
Summer is still far away, but there's already a potential blockbuster in the theatres. Fast Five has fast cars, tough women and sweaty guys fighting. Other new films visit a real war, a wake where recriminations fly, a high school prom, a fairy tale twisted out of shape and an artistic cinematographer.
Here's the list:
Fast Five 3 1/2 stars
Armadillo 4 1/2
A Wake 3
Hoodwinked Too! 2 1/2
Prom 2 1/2
FAST FIVE: You say you want fine acting, subtle character development and some insight into the human condition? Well, you’ve come to the wrong place. Here you get hot cars driven screaming fast, outrageous stunts and a monumental fight between a former bouncer (Vin Diesel) and a former wrestler (Dwayne Johnson).
You also get a mindless movie that’s bound to make a pile of money this weekend because it is so entertaining. Well, mostly. It starts off strong. Diesel is on his way to prison. His friends (led by Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster) free him by causing the prisoner bus to roll over on the highway. They all head to Rio de Janeiro, where they engineer a truly spectacular sequence. They steal three cars off a speeding train. At the end of the film, they’re towing a vault full of money through the streets, crashing it into a bank, smashing lots of police cars and anything else in the way. Between the start and that end the film slows down. That’s where the story gets filled in and the actors can’t manage to keep it vibrant, although there are chases in Rio’s favelas and gun battles seemingly inspired by the great Brazilian film City of God.
The pals plan a heist to rob Brazil’s biggest drug dealer. They form a team by bringing back characters from the previous films in the series (it started 10 years ago with The Fast and the Furious; this is #5). Johnson, who is new to the series, plays an American agent trying to catch them. It’s great fun -- and stay for the end credits. There’s a curious scene stuck in there that’s either a gift to the fans who know the series inside out, or a pointer to future sequels. (Scotiabank, Oakridge, Dolphin and many suburban theatres) 3½ out of 5
ARMADILLO: This intimate documentary shows what war is really like, and how the young men sent to fight handle it. It’s much like but far better than the American film Restrepo, which was nominated for an Academy Award (and whose director was recently killed covering the fighting in Libya). Both films take us to live with a platoon of soldiers in Afghanistan. Armadillo’s are Danish. The details of their daily life are similar, with lots of fear slicing through the boredom and the bravado; even to a cow killed accidentally in each film and fried up for dinner.
But there’s more action, more tension, drama and soul searching in the Danish version. The camera happens to capture some dramatic battle footage and an incident that causes a controversy back home. There was even an official investigation. The soldiers who went there full of idealism, come home shaken, not so much by what they had to do, but the reaction they got. This is high drama. The British Film Institute last year named it best documentary and called it “a touchstone film that will be watched for years to come.” (VanCity Theatre) 4½ out of 5
Playing in tandem with ….
AMERICAN, THE BILL HICKS STORY: an admiring portrait of the late comedian from Texas who found far more fame in England than in the U.S. with his scabrous dissection of U.S. foreign policy.
CAMERAMAN: This is a treat for film buffs because it showcases The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff, the great British cinematographer. He died a couple of years ago, but for about 10 years before that, director Craig McCall gathered comments about him from stars (Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Kim Hunter) and admirers like director Richard Fleischer, who called him “probably the greatest color photographer that ever lived” and Martin Scorsese, possibly his greatest fan. The documentary was finished last year. This is its premiere engagement in Vancouver.
We know that his visual triumph The Red Shoes is a de-facto ancestor of the newest ballet film, The Black Swan, because of its similar story. Scorsese adds how it influenced the boxing scenes in Raging Bull. Best of all, are Cardiff’s own memories including how he got certain difficult shots and in a more gossipy line how he photographed Marlene Dietrich in the bath and why Orson Welles demanded a mink-lined costume to play Ghengis Khan. The film has lots of clips from his movies, even the Rambo and Conan films he shot, as well as home movies and photos he took on various sets. (Pacific Cinematheque) 4 out of 5
Alongside the documentary, three of Cardiff’s best films are being shown. The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, for which he won an Oscar in 1947, and the surreal Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. Check the theatre’s website at http://www.cinematheque.bc.ca/cameraman-the-life-and-work-of-jack-cardiff for times and details.
A WAKE: Watch Nicholas Campbell closely at the beginning of this film. He’s only around long enough to die and let everybody talk about him for the rest of the hour and a half. He plays a tyrannical theatre director who has asked his wife to hold a wake after he’s gone by bringing together his favorite actors. They were all in the cast of Hamlet, a production that fell apart when he switched the lead from one actor to another and he was accused of rape by one of the women. They gather at his country home on a bleak, snow covered Ontario farm, which is fairly representative of what transpires inside.
Old hostilities and new resentments come out as the guests banter, speak their memories into a video camera (we see several bits) and try to re-play their Hamlet roles in a read-through (which ends in disarray). Sarain Boylan plays the rape accuser. She’s loud, insecure and disruptive. Some call her a whore. She and various other members of the cast, especially Kristopher Turner as the director’s resentful son, will erupt in bursts of anger, even hysteria now and then, in scenes that come off as overwrought. On the other hand, Graham Abbey, as a small-time Hollywood actor, and Krista Sutton, as a woman who became a social worker, have several calm and pleasant conversations. Their dialogue is natural. Improvisation created both styles and the result is spirited and always interesting but very mixed. And a surprise near the end doesn’t ring true at all. Still, the film has won awards in Carmel, California and in Toronto. The director, Vancouver-based Penelope Buitenhuis, will be at both evening screenings tonight, Saturday and Sunday to talk up the film and answer questions. (5th Avenue Cinemas) 3 out of 5
HOODWINKED TOO! HOOD vs EVIL: This sequel takes even more liberties with the Red Riding Hood story than the first film, an unlikely hit five years ago. There’s almost nothing left for children here. They won’t understand the jokes about jumping the shark on Happy Days, Hannibal Lecter in prison and “the former Denver Nuggets”. The film is peppered with them and, in a move that goes way beyond the old Fractured Fairytales, familiar characters are completely altered. Granny rides a motorcycle and is good with a gun. Hansel and Gretel are two obese kids with stereotype German accepts done by a couple of Saturday Night Live regulars.
In the story the two fatties are kidnapped. The wolf (a very funny Patrick Warburton), granny (Glenn Close) and the entire Happily Ever After Agency are unable to rescue them, even with lots of high tech tracking equipment and weaponry. Red, who is off at a king fu baking course somewhere in Asia, has to come back and help. She’s voiced by Hayden Panettiere. The villain, with a surprise motivation, is a witch voiced by Joan Cusack. Martin Short, Wayne Newton and Cheech and Chong also provide voices. The cast is good, the story not so much, and the jokes are for adolesecents. The animation sparkles though, with contributions from companies here and in Toronto. (International Village, Station Square and several suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
PROM: It’s nice to see that movies about high school can still be made without wall-to-wall filthy language and crude sex jokes. But does it have to be this squeaky clean and innocent? Nobody smokes, swears or even leers in this school and the bad-boy motorcycle rebel is really a nice guy who helps out his mom. He’s misunderstood that’s all, especially by the principal who assigns him to help the senior class president prepare decorations for the prom.
She’s a real goodie-two-shoes who finds him rude and arrogant, which he does seem to be at times. Slowly, though, they (Aimee Teegarden, from TV’s Friday Night Lights, and Thomas McDonell) warm to each other. They even go shopping together to pick out her prom dress, a fantasy that probably only happens in Disney movies like this. But then, he’s not her date. She still doesn’t have one. We follow the stories of several teens who are similarly busy getting ready, finding the courage to ask a date or hoping to be asked. The film nicely gets across the mix of anticipation and dread they feel. It’s charming and sweet but much too light. (International Village, Station Square and several suburban theatres) 2 1/2 out of 5
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