Pirates of the Caribbean, Last Night, The Beaver and a batch of other new films (plus a few old ones)
There’s one film that outranks them all this week, in size at least. Johnny Depp is back on the shimmering seas of the Caribbean and bound to be raking in the money. And there are many other choices this week ranging from adultery, eating right, fighting depression with a puppet, studying a musical icon to visiting a washed-up porn star.
Here’s the lengthy list:
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides 3 stars
Last Night 3
Forks Over Knives 3 1/2
Mighty Jerome 3
The Beaver 2 1/2
Meet Monica Velour 3
Bob Dylan series –
On the Bowery 4
Jumping the Broom –
A Beautiful Life --
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES: They’ve wisely trimmed down this fourth outing (it’s not as bloated as the last one) and yet I wish they’d gone over the script one more time. It needs still more streamlining because this movie is crowded with diversions. They’re big and colorful and entertaining but they do manage to chop the main story into pieces. Your mind might wander now and then.
Johnny Depp’s Cpt. Jack Sparrow is again as funny and mischievous as we want him to be. Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa, who seemed to have died last time, is alive and working for the King of England. They’re given a mission to find the fountain of youth, in a race against the Spanish apparently, an angle that’s foolishly under-developed. It could have added tension. The real competition comes when Jack is shanghaied on to the crew of a pirate new to the series, Blackbeard, played with scene-stealing presence by Ian McShane, and his daughter Angelica, played with good-looks and not a lot else by Penélope Cruz. She and Jack have a history together, we learn, and the film injects a few ribald elements. (He found her in a convent which he mistook for a brothel). They banter, swordfight and do anything but display chemistry. It’s all light fun, like the fights and chases Jack gets into about every ten minutes early on. I particularly liked his escape in a London street by running across the top of carriages and briefly meeting Judy Dench inside one of them. Later things spice up with voodoo, zombies and sweet mermaids who can attack like vampires. The 3D is under-used and, as so often happens, to us it’s merely cumbersome. (The Park, Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
LAST NIGHT: Keira Knightley may not be hobnobbing with those Caribbean pirates anymore but she does some pretty good acting here as a jealous wife who encounters temptation herself. Her early scenes spouting suspicion on her husband (Sam Worthington, best known for Avatar) are so authentic, they’re almost uncomfortable. She suspects he’s got a thing going on with a sexy woman at the office (Eva Mendes).
Then coincidence strikes. He and the sexpot (plus some others) are off to a convention in Philadelphia. She, left alone in New York, runs into an old flame (Guillaume Canet) who she hasn’t seen in years. He’s from France and in town only one night. What’s more, he’s quietly hot to resume the relationship they once had. Temptation grows in two parallel strands in two cities. The rest of the film alternates rather mechanically between the two, coffee here, drinks there, one couple swims in a hotel pool, the other dances slowly on a rooftop. It’s too convenient, heavy-handed and not helped by some jerky, too-fast editing. But the dialogue is smart, there are also many subtle well-observed touches and you’ll stay with it to see if any actual cheating goes on. (5th Avenue Cinemas) 3 ½ out of 5
FORKS OVER KNIVES: This film wants you to think twice before you eat another cheeseburger or even drink a glass of milk. It hopes you’ll stop consuming them altogether and switch to a "whole foods, plant-based diet.” It only uses the word “vegan” once, almost offhandedly, but that is the food regimen it’s promoting. What is does do straightforwardly and very well is argue its case and marshal its evidence based on the work of two researchers, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a biochemist formerly at Cornell University, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, formerly a surgeon in Cleveland. Independently, they discovered the same information: how animal fats and protein bring on heart disease and turn on some cancers. And, how a vegan diet can avoid them, and in some cases, even reverse them. That claim makes me uneasy but the film is persuasive. It’s heavy on facts, charts and other data and brings no dissenting statements. It does include several first-person stories. Ruth Heidrich of “Vancouver, Canada” for instance, who survived breast cancer. We see her jogging down in White Rock. (International Village) 3 ½ out of 5
MIGHTY JEROME: He was one of the most gifted athletes British Columbia ever produced. He held world records as a sprinter, was denied another one because of a bit of B.C. reticence (this film claims) and is honored through an annual track meet and a statue in Stanley Park. He was also vilified by the press because he went to three Olympics and brought home only one bronze medal. Some said he faked an injury and called him a quitter. This film intends to set the record straight about what happened to him. Through interviews with old pals, family and sports and media figures (including Bruce Kidd and Alan Fotheringham), archival footage and a few silent re-created scenes, we watch his life in North Van, his major wins and his Olympic short comings. It’s a good film that would have been better if more of his personal life outside sport was included. (5th Avenue Cinemas) 3 out of 5
THE BEAVER: This is a well-made film done in by events outside itself and a rather ludicrous story inside. Outside are Mel Gibson’s personal troubles, the drunken anti-Semitic rant five years ago and the abusive phone calls to his ex-girlfriend made public last year. His star power is currently dim. Inside, he’s a good actor playing a man brought down by depression. Jodie Foster, who also directed, plays the wife who has kicked him out of the house. When he finds a hand puppet of a beaver in a dumpster and starts speaking through it (in a Cockney accent) to separate him from “the negative aspects of his personality” he begins a turnaround and is allowed back home.
That’s when the film’s problems really kick in. The puppet is with him everywhere, even during sex and a joint shower with his wife. His employees at the toy company where he’s CEO accept its leadership. It inspires a new toy, Mr. Beaver’s Woodchopper Kit, which inexplicably becomes a big hit. Even more absurd is how the puppet takes over Mel’s life, telling him to shape up and gradually speaking more and more of his vitriol for him. Mel meanwhile becomes a good husband, fixing a tap and building a birdhouse with his young son. An older son remains angry, but then he’s got his own problems. It’s a well-meaning attempt to show how depression effects family and friends. It’s just not believable, although I’ll say this, Mel Gibson is a very good puppeteer. (International Village) 2 ½ out of 5
MEET MONICA VELOUR: It’s a fearless turn by the erstwhile Samantha from Sex and the City. Kim Cattrall plays a former porn film star whose best years are long behind her. She lives in a trailer park in Indiana, is fighting her abusive ex for custody of her daughter and stares in the mirror at the fat that has accumulated around her tummy. Her face is full on screen with no makeup.
When she takes a comeback job as a stripper at a seedy bar that calls itself a gentlemen’s club, she attracts a young fan all the way from Washington State. He’s a 17-year-old kid who has all her old videos, including Pork and Mindy, Hot Box Lunch and Frankenbooty 3D, which he says includes an homage to the old Hammer films. Yes, he’s a nerd and, as played by Dustin Ingram, not unlike Napolean Dynamite. His eagerness meets her tired anger and we get a clash that’s frequently funny, then turns into a trading of philosophies and ultimately, through Cattrall’s steady performance, a sweet declaration of dignity. No, it’s not a new story and the film is overly-concerned with the quirky side of life, but the two main characters are strong. Nudity appears only briefly, in an old scrapbook. (International Village) 3 out of 5
BOB DYLAN: The VanCity Theatre celebrates his impending 70th birthday with five days of films about him, starring him or, in one case, both starring and written by him. You can catch him acting for Sam Pekinpah in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid or for Larry Charles in Masked and Anonymous, which he also wrote under another name. (I don’t think it ever got here before). You can watch several actors including Cate Blanchett and Heath Ledger play him at different stages of his life in I’m Not There. Or you can watch the documentaries.
The Other Side of the Mirror (playing three times) has all his Newport Folk Festival appearances including the historic night he went electric. (I saw all those shows live and attest to both the power and the nostalgia of these filmed records). Of, course, Dylan’s rather self-important strutting in DA Pennebaker’s 1967 film Don’t Look Back is showing, as well as Martin Scorsese’s lengthy study of his work and impact, No Direction Home. There’s more. Check it out at http://www.viff.org/theatre/2011/04/featured/delineating-dylan/
THREE CLASSICS: The Pacific Cinematheque has brought out new prints of three key films from three continents for the long weekend (and, in two cases, for an extra day).
ON THE BOWERY is the award-winner that caused a stir back in 1957 because it showed life on New York's skid road. Men are seen drinking, talking, sleeping on the sidewalk and flaked out in flop houses. It was criticized for showing the world a negative side of America. I wrote about it last week and gave it 4 out of 5.
CHUNGKING EXPRESS (Hong Kong 1994) is often cited as one of the great films of the last 25 years. It's an ultra-chic, beautifully photographed urban crime thriller by Wong Kar-Wai about two cops with woman problems.
THE CONFORMIST is probably Bernardo Bertolucci’s best film, also beautifully photographed (by Vittorio Storaro). Sex and politics mix in 1930s Italy as Jean-Louis Trintignant portrays a man who suppresses his homosexuality by becoming a Fascist. This new print restores a 5-minute scene cut from earlier North American releases.
Also now playing …
JUMPING THE BROOM: Class issues among blacks surface in this African-American entry in the wedding-season films. Angela Bassett is the rich mother-in-law from Martha’s Vineyard while Loretta Devine is her working-class counterpart railing about “bougies” who try to pretend they’re not like other black folks. Those tensions all come out amid broad laughs as Paula Patton (rich) and Laz Alonso (blue-collar) get married. Filmed in Nova Scotia. (Granville Theatre)
A BEAUTIFUL LIFE: The China Lion Film company is meeting its promise to bring a new Chinese film a month. This new one stars two multi-award-winning actors, Liu Ye, best known to us for a Meryl Streep film, Dark Matter, and Shu Qi, who was offered Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and later fired her manager who advised her to reject it. She plays a real estate agent with a drinking problem who develops a romantic relationship with a Beijing cop (Liu Ye) suffering memory loss. Their luck turns bad after they marry. (Station Square and Silver Cities in Coquitlam and at Riverport)
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