Step Up Revolution is fun, Sholem Aleichem and Vito illuminate and a Hitchcock classic for just $1
You know it’s a slow week when the biggest film is yet another Ben Stiller comedy. And three smaller titles dropped out, one of them, a Robert De Niro film, previewed for the media and the public but now not opening at all in Canada. Good that we have a very energetic dance film, two very good documentaries and failing those, the Olympics.
Here’s the list:
Step Up Revolution: 2 ½ stars
Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness: 3 ½
Alps: 2 ½
Hitchcock’s North By Northwest: 4
The Watch: ---
STEP UP REVOLUTION: The story isn’t much and the acting even less. The fun here, and it is considerable, is all in spectacular visuals and dance sequences dreamt up by the choreographers and rendered in very good 3-D. We first see the dancers bouncing on and over cars in a Miami traffic jam. Later they emerge out of paintings in an art gallery while ballerinas put on a neon light show. There’s also a major dance on a dock of cargo containers. Six production numbers in all, each one bigger than the last. The one I particularly like is a protest to mock greedy property developers. The dancers wear black suits and hats and carry briefcases as they mass to disrupt the official announcement of a new project.
They call themselves “The Mob.” At first they’re only trying to win a big prize in a YouTube contest. Then they get politicized. A billion-dollar development is set to wipe out their funky neighborhood, and with little to explain why they want to save it, they fight back, proclaiming: “Enough with performance art. It’s time for protest art.”
Peter Gallagher, as the money man pushing the project, is an easy target. The “mob” leader works in one of his hotels and also starts romancing his daughter, who you might not be surprised to learn wants to become a dancer too. Improbable sure, but typical of the four films in the series. They’ve been coming along every two years since 2006 and making good money. Channing Tatum got his break in the first one. Fans will recognize Moose ((Adam G. Sevani) back for a third time but only in a cameo. (International Village and suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
VITO: Legend has it that the gay pride movement started with the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969. This film rightly points out it took a few more events to get it going. Vito Russo, who became one of its most fervent leaders, was there watching that night, thinking this can only lead to trouble. A year later he founded the first of three groups he was associated with and started 20 years of activism and advocacy. This lively film chronicles it all.
He never doubted that being gay was OK and articulately said and wrote so. He hosted a cable TV show and got Lily Tomlin talking for a newspaper interview. Later he had to mediate between various factions, notably at a 1973 gay pride rally shown in some dramatic and tense film clips. Outside the movement he’s best known as a movie buff who, in The Celluloid Closet, wrote about gays in the movies and gave lectures illustrated with more film clips. There’s a rousing montage of them here and you can decide for yourself if they all represent what he saw in them. He went on to argue that the movies actually created gay self-loathing.Tragically, he was done in by too much of the good times. He died of AIDS in 1990. This is an enlightening, up close and reverential portrait of both him and the gay community. (Denman Theatre) 4 out of 5
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: LAUGHING IN THE DARKNESS: You might think a documentary about the Yiddish writer whose work was the basis for Fiddler on the Roof would be quaint and folksy. Not so. It details not just a colorful life (village boy shaped by tradition, city migrant, stock market player, bankrupt, literary pioneer) but also, by extension, the history of Eastern Europe’s Jews during his years (1859-1916).
He was the first to write seriously in “the language of the people,” Yiddish. He dealt with Jewish identity and confronted the ever-present question of how much tradition to keep and how much modernity to take on. He lived through the Russian-led pogroms and one of the speakers in the film even detects a forerunner of Holocaust literature in his later works. This is a thorough, almost academic study, with prominent experts, and even his granddaughter, telling anecdotes and analyzing his influence. Old, probably unrelated film clips show the times he lived in and for a few seconds you even hear his recorded voice. As the clever New York Times headline read a year ago: “So, Would It Hurt You to Go See a Documentary About a Yiddish Writer?” (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5
Playing in tandem with … (see http://www.viff.org/theatre/ for times) …
ALPS: More absurdist life-explorations from Greece’s Giorgos Lanthimos, whose last film, Dogtooth got an Oscar nomination but not a lot of cheers from me. I really tried to like this new one because individual scenes are crisp and involving, both in the direction and the acting. However, they don’t seem to add up to anything substantial. Too much is just not credible.
A nurse, a paramedic, a gymnast and her coach establish a service to help people get over the death of a loved one. For a fee they’ll pretend to be that person to help ease the pain. They call their business Alps because the name gives no indication what they do and mountains are so formidable. They choose mountain names for themselves and their leader, Mont Blanc, enforces a strict discipline. The nurse dares to break the rules, though. Scenes are often creepy or deadpan funny and usually clouded with the nagging question: How could even the most deeply-grieving possibly accept and take comfort from these imposters? Too mysterious for me. (VanCity Theatre) 2 ½ out of 5
NORTH BY NORTHWEST: Here’s a deal for you. Pacific Cinemathque, as part of its Alfred Hitchcock retrospective will let you see one of his greatest films for just $1. North by Northwest is tense, sexy, comic and suspenseful as Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill is mistaken for a spy and pursued on a train, on a cornfield road and Mt. Rushmore in scenes that have been clipped or copied many times.
The film is supremely entertaining and yet, despite three nominations, did not win an Oscar. (Ben Hur won best picture). The Cinemathque is offering the deal to mark its 40th anniversary. It applies for the 7 p.m. showing, Thurs, Aug 2. (4 out of 5 stars)
Also now playing …
THE WATCH: This used to be called Neighborhood Watch. Then Trayvon Martin was gunned down in Florida and the name had to change. Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill are Richard Ayoade make up this neighborhood group. Their task expands wildly when they have to fend off an alien invasion, from outer space that is. You know, little stuff to keep the hood safe. No, I haven’t seen it (the preview wasn’t available to The Vancouver Observer) but I’m told the humor is pretty mindless. (The Ridge, International Village and many suburban theatres)
NOTE: These images are movie stills provided by the studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.