Anthony Hopkins playing with Transformers, Harmonium’s potent Japanese drama and something not to do on vacation
Here’s a small sign of how much things have changed. The 5th Avenue Cinema, which used to play mostly high-toned films, has got the new Transformers movie. That’s not out of the ordinary over there these days, but pretty extreme nonetheless. Meanwhile the film about Elsa Dorfman the photographer, which could have easily played there in the old days, is at Tinseltown probably struggling to be noticed.
And this tiny quirk: the Rio Theatre gets a head start with the dystopian film The Bad Batch. Makes sense; they’ve got the natural audience for it. Next Friday the film moves over to the VanCity Theatre.
Right place or wrong, these are the new ones this week:
Transformers: The Last Knight: 2 stars
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail: 4
The Bad Batch: 2 ½
47 Meters Down: 3
The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography: 3 ½
TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT: Really, at the 5th Avenue? Has somebody in the Cineplex booking office in Toronto mistaken it for an Anthony Hopkins film just because he’s in it? In fact, this is a Michael Bay film, pure and in line with his Armageddon,The Rock, The Island and the four previous Transformers. He delivers explosions, and more explosions, car chases and frenetic action. Human interaction? Not so much. It’s dumb, ridiculous, exhausting, visually stunning and occasionally fun.
The war between Autobots and Decepticons that started as a line of toys has come back again to our planet, with a few innovations. Hopkins is one of them. He plays a professor who has studied these space aliens and found they’ve been here as far back as King Arthur’s days—they gave Merlin his magic. They even helped defeat Hitler. Now they’re pariahs and pursued by an American agency, the Transformers Reaction Force. They’ve been ordered back here by a new character, Quintessa, who claims she created them and wants them to retrieve a powerful weapon they left here long ago. That’s a magical staff that only another academic (Laura Haddock) can find. A mechanic (Mark Wahlberg) has a talisman that’s key to activating it. Meanwhile, the Earth has only three days to live because Quintessa intends to drain all its energy to revive her own planet, Cybertron. Fans can follow all this. It’s hard for the rest of us because the excessive spectacle and choppy storytelling get in the way. The last half hour is solid robot-on-robot fighting with army and air force attacks thrown in until the good guys’ leader, Optimus Prime, gets downright Churchillian and appeals for all to work together. How long can that last? (Scotiabank, 5th Avenue, Marine Gateway and many suburban theatres) 2 out of 5
HARMONIUM: This is the most compelling film I’ve seen in some time. It’s a particularly Japanese take on guilt, shame, saving face and atonement. It starts like a common family film then thickens the plot, and thickens it again and again, gets a bit twisted and throws out some stunning revelations. You’ll be, as they say, riveted.
Toshio and his wife Aki are somewhat remote to each other at home. Their daughter is bubbly and sweet. When Toshio, who runs a metalwork shop out back, hires an old friend Yasaka to work for him and invites him to live with them as well, it feels odd, but not yet strange. We soon learn the friend is just out of prison. The wife gets him to talk about it; he admits it was for murder and shows that he’s reformed by expressing real regret. He even teaches the daughter to better her playing of the harmonium. The wife falls into an affair with him.
Soon after the daughter has an accident that paralyzes her. The friend disappears and not even a detective can find him. Eight years later a young man arrives and asks for a job and inadvertently causes the whole case, all the grief, anger and vengeful feelings to open up again. Then the truth comes out. This film is beautifully acted and directed, a bit deliberately plotted but deeply dramatic. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5
ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL: After the 2008 financial meltdown, the US government did not go after the big banks for causing it. They were too big to fail and were bailed out instead of prosecuted. The only one the feds went after was the tiny Abacus Federal Savings Bank operating in New York’s Chinatown. They indicted it on multiple counts of fraud and this bristling documentary by Steve James, of Hoop Dreams fame, shows how much of a sham that was.