The Avengers, Darling Companion, Headwinds and DOXA documentary reviews
There’s one big and very loud film at the top this week, two small ones and a whole bunch of documentaries at the annual DOXA festival.
Here’s the list:
The Avengers 3 ½ stars
Darling Companion 2 ½
DOXA: Do You Really Want to Know? 3 ½
DOXA: Hard Light 3
DOXA: Who Cares? 4
THE AVENGERS: This is a very good version of something we’ve seen many times before and will be offered many times again. It’s a straight comic book story with a familiar arc. Villain threatens. Superhero rallies. (In this case six of them, brought together like some rock and roll supergroup). They hurtle forward to a major battle at the climax where a lot of buildings, roads and vehicles are trashed. The Dark Knight Batman films may have more substance but you’ll relish this one for pure escapist fun. And the droll humor between spectacles of action.
You’ll need to already know a bit about the world of Marvel Comics and its inhabitants. Why, for instance, it’s so funny when The Hulk is told to “Smash.” And how 5 or 6 movies have led up to this summit. Samuel J. Jackson had a cameo in four of them promoting this “Avengers initiative.” He’s the man who brings the disparate characters together after a powerful energy device (the tesseract, found in last year’s Captain America movie) is stolen.
Robert Downey Jr., as Iron Man and the self-proclaimed genius, Tony Stark, gets the cleverest lines, most of them slyly sarcastic, and Mark Ruffalo brings some actual emotional depth to Dr. Bruce Banner, burdened by “the other guy,” i.e. The Hulk, inside him. The others, played by Jeremy Renner, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and even Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, are largely uninteresting. That leaves more of a stage for the villain, Loki, furious at a betrayal that denied him the throne in Asgard and railing against freedom, which he calls “life’s great lie.” (Actual ideas pop up only intermittently).Tom Hiddleston plays Loki with broad smiles and glee. Vancouver’s Cobie Smulders (of TV’s How I Met Your Mother and locally, Byng High School) has a smaller but key role as a government agent. The real star, in a way, is Joss Whedon for his crisp writing and (especially in a relentless last half hour of action) directing. (The Park, Dunbar, Scotiabank and everywhere) 3 ½ out of 5
DARLING COMPANION: "Wife loves the dog more than the husband, and then the husband loses the dog." That’s not only the official summary of this disappointing comedy but also the line that made it happen. Lawrence Kasdan wanted to make the film about the time his dog was lost in the Colorado Rockies. His wife Meg didn’t want to, not until she heard that line and realized the potential. It’s domestic drama much like that, no harder, no more profound, that drives it. The result is pleasant but mild.
This is Kasdan’s third check-in with the boomer generation, almost 30 years after The Big Chill and almost 20 after Grand Canyon. Kevin Kline, who’s in all three, plays a doctor and distracted husband. Over his objections, his wife (Diane Keaton) and daughter (Elizabeth Moss) take in a stray dog. A year later, after his daughter marries the vet, and with his wife feeling that empty-nest syndrome, he loses the animal. He was talking to the office on his cell phone. That stirs up a nest of marital tensions and involves Diane Wiest, Richard Jenkins and even Sam Shepard (as a sheriff suffering kidney stones) in a wide search. A gypsy sends them on several wrong leads and wolves attack in an animated dream. But the dog isn’t the real focus anyway. It’s boomers feeling the strains of aging which is given only a comfy surface examination here but performed by a terrific cast. (Fifth Avenue Cinemas) 2 ½ out of 5
HEADWINDS (Des Vents Contraires): Alert! Audrey Tautou, the erstwhile Amelie, is not very much in this film from France. She goes missing early on and is seen only sporadically after that.
There are other reasons though to see and enjoy the movie. Benoît Magimel as her husband for one. His reaction to her disappearance, cool at first, later emotional, drives the story. It’s a subtle performance. He’s a writer, not-overly successful and with a reckless streak in and outsidethe nightclubs he frequents. Now he has to take on responsibility and care for his two sons. A year later, his wife is still gone and he’s broke. A brother invites him to return to the small town and the very house he grew up in and hires him as an instructor at his driving school. Episodes follow that only seem random, including several utterly inappropriate moves on his part. They all help in the process of rebuilding his life which the film, based on a popular novel, suggests is best done through contact, good or bad, with people. The film is low-key but affecting. (Fifth Avenue (3 out of 5)
DOXA DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL: It's in its 12th year and from now until May 13 is showing over 100 films. That's far too many to detail here so visit www.doxafestival.ca for summaries, showtimes and more.
Here are a few that sound interesting and then three that I've already seen.
BEAR 71, on opening night, is said to be an interactive experience based on film of a mother grizzly bear in Banff National Park captured by motion-activated surveillance cameras. Vancouver artist Jeremy Mendes is one of the project creators.
BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS!: Fredrik Gertten's sequel to Bananas, his film of three years ago which exposed terrible working conditions at Dole Corporation plantations in Nicauragua. This follow up exposes Dole's efforts to try and quash that film.
AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY a rousing portrait of China's renowned artist and, since the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, its most famous dissident.
VINYLMANIA: WHEN LIFE RUNS AT 33 REVOLUTIONS PER MINUTE: Even more fervently than Randy's Vinyl Tap, Italy's Paolo Campana celebrates the pre-download, pre-CD, yet enduring music medium, the record. He visits major collectors, and edits his results right to the beat.
The three I've seen ....
DO YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW? John Zaritsky, Vancouver-based, winner of an Oscar and several other major awards, takes on another agonizing debate: should you get yourself tested if there’s Huntington’s Chorea in your family? It’s a genetic disease that attacks the motor functions in the brain. There’s no cure so why bother finding out?
Zaritsky ponders the pros and cons with three families. A Toronto scientist is still working at age 61, 17 years after his test. He suffers the characteristic jerky body movements and, in a hard-to-watch sequence, falls down several times on his daily jog. A woman in Ohio and six siblings get tested one after the other. “I didn’t want to live my life in fear,” says one.
Here in Vancouver, Jeff Carroll, a chorea victim but also at the time a researcher at UBC’s Centre for Huntington Disease (which he describes as the best in the world) goes one emotional step further. He and his wife want to find a way to have children but not pass on the faulty gene. The film takes a calm and reasoned look at one highly emotional subject. Advance tickets for Sunday’s screening are already sold out so you’ll have to try for rush tickets at the door or hope this film gets a repeat on the festival’s last day. 3 ½ out of 5
HARD LIGHT: Is an elegy for a way of life that has all but disappeared, the modest, uncomplicated sense of community of the remote coastal villages of Newfoundland called outports. Michael Crummey writes about them; Justin Simms made the film after reading his stories and, as he explains near the end, found their humanity and “great wisdom” helped him deal with a spiritual crisis. High tribute, yet Crummey comes across as unassuming and easygoing in both interviews in the film and in his readings over black and white recreations of his stories.
His prose is economical and evocative about modest people happy with what they had compared to today when “there’s more stuff in the world than ever and we’re making ourselves sick with it.” Not deep, but pretty profound and charming. 3 out of 5
WHO CARES? This will be of interest during the missing women inquiry. In Edmonton, prostitutes have also been assaulted, even killed. The RCMP is trying to counter with Project KARE which collects information and DNA samples which they admit won’t make life any safer for the women but could, at the very least, make it easier to identify their remains if the worst were to happen. The film has several scenes of plainclothes cops chatting up the women on the street to get their co-operation. In the process we get to meet some of them.
Even more, we watch others tell their stories in their homes and in a friendly neighborhood bar. The stories get more lurid, even disturbing, as the film progresses, sometimes fuelled by drugs, usually with a chilly tone of resignation and fear. It’s quite a stunning film and much like the famous On the Bowery from 1957 in the unflinching look it takes at a supremely marginalized group of people. 4 out of 5
NOTE: The images are provided by the movie studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.