Sarah Polley captivates in Stories, Nicole Kidman sensual in Paperboy, Canadian Rebelle shines: review
I’m away on a trip this week and don’t have reviews of all the new arrivals. Today, I’m missing Paranormal Activity 4, the annual Halloween chiller, or Tai Chi Zero, the Chinese film that mashes up martial arts and steampunk.
I do have one of the best films of the year, one of the messiest and a couple of art house gems.
Here’s the list:
Stories We Tell: 4½ stars
The Paperboy: 2
Alex Cross: 2½
STORIES WE TELL: Family history isn’t interesting to anybody outside the family? Don’t you believe it. Not when the history is as compelling as Sarah Polley’s. In this completely captivating film, she tries to track down an old rumor: that her father is not really her father. Seventeen different people tell her what they remember and since they’re a mixed group of siblings, half-siblings, friends and others, there’s variation in their stories. Quite understandable. I don’t key in on the alleged fallibility of memory; I think her search for answers is like a mystery thriller; a good story, immensely enjoyable, moving and often funny.
Sarah’s dad Michael Polley provides the backbone for this film by reading out his version of the family history in a recording studio. His memories are surprisingly intimate and candid. Sarah supervises and, frequently, cuts away for other angles on his stories in the interviews she conducted. Her mother becomes the centerpiece. Diane Polley, who died when Sarah was only 11, was a stage actor and something of a bon vivant with a buoyant personality. Sarah has to get to know her again through the interviews to understand her. She has a few home movies and a batch of re-creations, with Rebecca Jenkins playing her mother. They look exactly like the old Super 8 films. We also see her two fathers, now and re-created. This is a film made with imagination, originality and a great deal of heart. (Fifth Avenue Cinemas) 4½ out of 5
THE PAPERBOY: It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie quite as lurid as this one. You’ve no doubt heard that Nicole Kidman urinates on Zac Efron. Well, that’s not even sexual. It’s a common remedy for a jellyfish sting. There’s far worse here. How about a “no-touching-allowed” prison visit in which both the inmate and his girlfriend masturbate themselves into an orgasm. Or a violent rape on top of a washer and dryer. Or swamp-dwelling white trash looking like inbred freaks. There’s more, all weirdly fascinating but with no real purpose. That’s unlike Precious, the previous film Lee Daniels directed, which had a message in its brutal sequences.
This is a vehicle for Kidman to show off her hot and sensual side. She plays it cheerfully ingenuous as a good-time girl in a small Florida town who comes to believe that a man on death row (John Cusack acting sweaty and repulsive) is innocent. She helps a big city reporter (Matthew McConaughey) look into the case and attracts the eye of his driver. That would be Efron, just kicked out of college and off the swim team and repeatedly reduced to wearing just his underwear. (McConaughey uncharacteristically keeps his shirt on.) A prickly black reporter (David Oyelowo) and a black maid narrator (Macy Gray) enable a few racial issues to be brought in just for context and a bit of a lift from the generally sordid goings on. (International Village) 2 out of 5
REBELLE (also known in English as WAR WITCH): Child soldiers in Africa were in the news not so long ago and in previous films. Not like this though. As you might imagine, this film, set in an unnamed country but filmed in The Congo, is harrowing. What you may not expect is a vein of humanity amidst the slaughter and the beatings and intimidation that a young girl suffers after she’s kidnapped from her village. The first act she’s forced to commit is to shoot her own parents. It’s her initiation into a rebel band led by a character called Great Tiger. Then she’s trained in the use of an AK-47 rifle and taken on raids and ambushes to kill.
She sees ghosts and can predict attacks. That gets her dubbed the “war witch” and affords her special protection. A boy called “the magician” becomes her best friend. These armies are known for using mystical elements to control their recruits. The film is authentic in representing that and in showing scenes of regular life and even humor in the villages. It feels like a documentary at times because the actors were told to improvise their lines and speak as they would normally. The technique works spectacularly well with 14-year-old Rachel Mwanza, who plays the girl. She has won acting awards in both Berlin and New York. Director Kim Nguyen, of Montreal, founded her in Kinshasa.
Rebelle, in French and the Bantu language, Lingala, is Canada’s submission to the next Academy Awards. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5
Playing in tandem with …
TABU: Paradise is lived and lost in colonial Africa in this intensely romantic movie from Portugal. Not only is there a forbidden love referred to at one point as “a colossal foolishness”, it comes to us in a retro style and in black and white, and it is all in all mesmerizing. There’s also a recurring crocodile, standing in for a serpent, I guess, to underline the film’s theme.
The story starts in Lisbon where an old woman asks a friend to find a man she once knew. He’s now in an old-age home and clear-minded, not “bonkers” as one character describes him, and willing to relate a good yarn. Actually, it’s narrate because as we see the story happen we only hear his voice tell it. The characters act like they would in a silent movie, successfully conveying strong emotions without words. That section, labeled “Paradise”, shows a love triangle in Mozambique. She’s married to a plantation owner; her lover has a band and performs Be My Baby and other Phil Spector songs. While their passions smoulder, an independence movement is making noise. That makes two levels of guilt and a genuine art house film, a little bit slow, quite eccentric but a treat to experience. (VanCity Theatre) 3½ out of 5
ALEX CROSS: A lot of people were upset to hear that Tyler Perry would be playing the popular detective this time out. Morgan Freeman played him in two films, and how could the man who writes and plays Madea the feisty grandmother possibly match him? Well, Perry is perfectly good in the role. He’s confidant, strong and the right age. This is a younger Cross he’s acting, not yet with the FBI in Washington but a police detective in Detroit. And there are a couple of brutal fight sequences he has to endure. Having defended him, I have to admit Matthew Fox makes the bigger impression. But then villains often do.
Fox made his name on TV’s Lost. Here, he’s dangerously skinny, shaved bald and playing depraved. He’s a hit man and a sociopath who likes to inflict pain. He’s on a mission, apparently, to kill somebody on somebody’s orders. We don’t know who and can only follow Cross as he uses astounding powers of deduction to get on his trail. The climax will have your blood pumping but there are story problems on the way to there, and even after. It’s not clear what the villain’s plot actually is, and, in almost a postscript, Cross recites not only the explanation but also more than we ever suspected was going on. This is a glossy, high-tech thriller that neglects to keep us in the loop. (International Village) 2½ out of 5
NOTE: These images are movie still provided by the studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.