Chimpanzee, The Lucky One, Damsels in Distress and five new films: review
Disney’s annual Earth Day film leads off this week’s new movies. A sardonic look at college life, some obsessive pop culture fans and two views of modern Africa and two Canadian films are among the others.
Here’s the whole list:
Chimpanzee: 4 ½ stars
The Lucky One: 2 ½
Damsels in Distress: 3
Sleeping Sickness: 3 ½
Comic Con Episode 4: 3
Hard Core Logo: 2 ½
The Odds: --
Think Like a Man: --
CHIMPANZEE: This is a superb wildlife documentary and a great film for any young naturalist you know and for anybody at all. That’s because there’s more than information and stunning photography here. There’s a narrative that’s just as dramatic as any regular movie.
It’s the latest in Disney’s annual series for Earth Day. We watch a young chimp, who the filmmakers call Oscar, from his first day alive through three years of growing up in an Ivory Coast jungle. Like any kid he’s playful, eager to learn (cracking open nuts and eating bugs on a stick are important skills) and generally stays right by mom within his extended family. A rival band of chimpanzees just over the ridge covet their land and are seen skulking through the trees now and then. They raid, Oscar’s mom is lost and he spends days looking for her.
As his family shuns him, an unlikely benefactor emerges but the over-the-ridge chimps looms again, making this an enormously engrossing film. It brings out the cute and the similar-to-us without anthropomorphic gimmicks. So when a bigger rock is needed to crush a nut and Tim Allen’s narration has “Bring on the power tools,” it’s not about what the animals are thinking but about what they’re doing. The directors, Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield made the equally celebrated Planet Earth for the BBC and Discovery Channel. (International Village and many suburban theatres) 4 ½ out of 5
THE LUCKY ONE: Everybody wants another one like The Notebook. An intense love affair, a big struggle and a good cry made it the highpoint in the string of movies made from the works of Nicholas Sparks (now numbering seven). This new one is not a match. It’s pleasant, comfortable and mild. I can’t imagine many coming to tears over it.
It’s got Zac Efron, improving as an actor but no Ryan Gosling, and Taylor Schilling, relatively new to the movies, playing the lovers. They’re both very pretty people and we like them for that but they don’t generate much in the way of sparks. Their kisses and a couple of later sex scenes are almost chaste. The conflicts they build up to don’t seem momentous, an impediment rooted in the novel. Zac plays a Marine who survives a bomb in Iraq because he wandered 20 feet away to pick up a photograph.
Back stateside, he walks from Colorado to Louisiana searching for the woman in the picture. He finds her running a dog kennel, raising a brainy young son and dodging a resentful ex-husband who happens to be the local police chief and mighty suspicious of this new arrival. Zac can’t bring himself to reveal the picture that brought him there and you can pretty well guess the double showdown coming. Destiny is mentioned a couple of times and then left alone. Too deep I guess for the surface softness this film prefers. (The Park, Scotiabank and suburban theatres). 2 ½ out of 5
DAMSELS IN DISTRESS: Back in the 90s, Whit Stillman won an admiring audience on campuses everywhere with his films Barcelona and Metropolitan. Now he’s back and right on the students’ own turf with this fanciful and literate view of politics there, social activists and misplaced self-perception.
Greta Gerwig stars as an opinionated and slightly obsessed coed on a mission to improve the world. In this case, it’s the immediate campus where most of the male students offend her overactive sense of smell and she and four friends run a suicide prevention centre where a banner reads: “Come on. It’s not That Bad.” They offer up similarly sage advice, donuts and dance classes. That last one gets mocking jeers from the student newspaper editor and Greta counters that he’s like all journalists, pedantic and lacking humility. That’s the comic tone Stillman spins: light, articulate and airy in this funny portrait of a campus activist. She’s sure of herself and quick to offer guidance, even if, after a romantic setback, she runs off and stumbles upon a goofy solution for everything: motel soap with a pleasing scent. Gently absurd. Well-observed (except for a couple of the male characters). Cool and crazy. Arch. Overly quirky but still fun. (International Village) 3 out of 5
SLEEPING SICKNESS: This story of Europeans doing good and otherwise in Africa feels authentic. The director, Ulrich Köhler, from Germany, seems to know his subject well. His parents work there as doctors and he was rewarded with a best-director award at the Berlin film festival.
He gives us a series of impressions rather than a complete story line about a German doctor who runs a clinic to keep sleeping sickness at bay in rural Cameroon. The epidemic is over, his wife and daughter go back home but he keeps on working. He’s attracted to the easy-going local ways and, influenced by a high-living Frenchman, to the local women.
Years later, he’s still there and visited by a black doctor from France who spoke at a seminar about the evils of foreign aid and is now investigating whether the clinic is still needed. That sets European and African attitudes sparring in surprising ways. The film doesn’t analyze; it just shows without judging. It’s not another Heart of Darkness but a personal essay in fiction with lots of atmosphere, local flavor and an obvious love for Africa. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5
COMIC-CON EPISODE IV: A FAN'S HOPE: As Vancouver hosts its first-ever Fan Expo this weekend, here’s a look at the phenomenon on film. Morgan Spurlock’s latest pop-culture documentary takes him to the ultimate playground as vulcans and wookies mix with stormtroopers and Seth Rogen at the annual comic book convention in San Diego. Kevin Smith, Stan Lee, Joss Whedon and many others offer comments about “my tribe,” “a country of your own” and how the shared ideals of the thousands of fans who attend the weekend amount to a religion.
These days, comic books are secondary. Movies, video games and TV shows get more promotion as the stars and producers come out to talk and greet. Harrison Ford and Kenneth Branagh walk by. There’s a clip of Sly Stallone and Dolph Lundgren recalling a famous Rocky punch-up. Spurlock foregoes his usual narration (and therefore his amusing insights) and lets others talk, principally two aspiring comic book artists wanting to show their work, the world’s major comic book dealer hoping to sell a Red Raven #1 for half a million dollars, and a costume designer preparing for a big contest. Along the way we also meet a couple of lovers who met at Comic Con last year. He now wants to propose to her very publicly. The film is lively and fun, but lacking even a bit of critical commentary. (Granville) 3 out of 5
HARD CORE LOGO 2: What can you do when you want to take another hit off a successful movie you made 16 years ago but a sequel isn’t possible because your main character killed himself? Bruce McDonald came up with a good solution but a somewhat self-indulgent film.
The original (a faux-documentary based on a Michael Turner novel) followed a Vancouver punk band on a tour so disastrous that lead singer Joe Dick committed suicide. On camera. He re-appears (sort of) when a singer with a current punk band (Care Failure of Toronto’s Die Mannequin—real woman, real band) claims she’s possessed by the spirit of Joe Dick.
McDonald (the director himself playing a director like himself) has just lost a high-paying Hollywood TV job and meets her in Florida to film a documentary about her claim, her artistic struggles (pretensions mostly) and a new recording session being held in Saskatchewan. It just gets nuttier and nuttier, with an exorcism and a talking animal nattering away among the highlights. McDonald wonders if Care is “high, possessed or just performing?” We’re not sure if we care. There’s some good and shrill music and a strong performance from Julian Richings reprising his role as the bossy record producer, Bucky Haight. (Granville Theatre) 2 ½ out of 5
Two others new ones that I haven’t seen …
THE ODDS: This Canadian film brings out a problem I wasn’t aware of: illegal teenage gambling. A small-time operator runs a gambling den out of his mother’s house. A young man commits suicide and his best friend, played by Tyler Johnston of TV’s The Killing, investigates. This first feature by Vancouver’s Simon Davidson got decent reviews when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. You can ask him about it yourself. He and some cast members will be at the early shows both Friday and Saturday. (Granville Theatre)
THINK LIKE A MAN: Steve Harvey’s popular relationship advice book is put to work in this comedy set among four pairs of middle-class blacks in the U.S. The women have been using the book against the men, who decide they can also use it to push back. Mixed reviews on the humor but audience scores at test screenings were described as “through the roof,” with all-round raves for Kevin Hart, the popular standup comic who’s been allowed a lot of room to improvise. Singer Chris Brown, known for his own relationship issues, has a small role. (International Village and a few suburban theatres)
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