A true newsroom horror, a wartime horror exposed and comic relief in music
Odd for this time of year. Very few new films have arrived and no big ones. We have a few smaller ones though, including three worthy Canadians.
You might take note though that the VanCity Theatre is holding a free-admission screening Tuesday afternoon of one of the more anticipated films coming soon..Jackie stars Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy suffering the trauma of JFK’s assassination and aftermath. You can see it at 1 p.m. Dec 6, 10 days before it opens. Best to get there early and have a VIFF membership.
These are the week’s new films:
Christine: 2 ½ stars
The Apology: 4 ½
Aim for the Roses: 4
The Other Half: 3
CHRISTINE: Here’s the second film this season about this almost forgotten story. VIFF had Kate Plays Christine which tried in an arty, semi-documentary way to understand why a TV news personality in Florida back in 1974 shot herself on air during a morning broadcast. She later died in hospital. This one is a straightforward dramatic telling of the same story. It’s got a powerful performance by Rebecca Hall as the ill-fated Christine Chubbuck but problems that to me make it the lesser of the two.
Both films accept that the suicide attempt was a protest against the “if it bleeds it leads” ethos being imposed on the station’s newsroom by new owners. Ratings were down; staff were told to make their stories “jucier,” Christine objected. Fluff wasn’t her thing either, especially during that time of Watergate. Hall captures perfectly the drive of an ambitious reporter, not least in a series of noisy arguments with her newsroom boss (Tracy Letts). “There have to be some changes around here,” she insists.
It’s the rest of the story that weakens the film by dwelling on her many troubles: psychological, medical, sexual, professional. She was deeply depressed for any number of reasons some of them going back years. In this version she comes off as more sad than a news-industry rebel. (VanCity Theatre) 2 ½ out of 5
THE APOLOGY: You might think that a documentary about the “comfort women” who were used as sex slaves by the Japanese military in World War II would be far too grim to watch. You’d be wrong, although somewhere about half way through it does tell some horrific stories. And the idea itself is distasteful. But the film is not. It does more than shock; it inspires by letting us watch three now very old survivors speak up and agitate for redress.
They’re called Grandmas, though not all are. Grandma Gil from Korea ended up sterile. Grandma Adela in the Philippines was so ashamed, fearing she’d be “a social outcast,” she told no one what happened to her. Not even her husband, which she regretted after he died. Grandma Cao from China didn’t have to tell. Everybody in her village knew. All three talk openly for the film, attend demonstrations, appeal to Japan for an apology, sometimes in person. One takes a petition with 1½ million signatures to a UN meeting. One doesn’t survive to see the final film. Tiffany Hsiung, based in Toronto, worked over 5 years to make it for the National Film Board. What she’s created is intimate, informative, jaw-dropping at times and immensely moving. She’ll attend the two screenings this weekend at the VanCity Theatre (Sat - 4:10PM and Sun - 7:30PM) 4½ out of 5
AIM FOR THE ROSES: If you’re one of those movie fans who is always looking for something novel, try this. It’s like nothing you’ve seen before. It’s absurd, audacious and very funny in blending together a long-forgotten stunt and a modern musical impression of it.
Years ago in Ontario a stunt driver named Ken Carter set up to jump a car across the St. Lawrence River to an island on the American side. Into a patch of roses. Hence the title. Years later Vancouver composer Mark Haney wrote an album’s length of music about the event highlighting the double bass, a guitarist and a cycle of songs. One of them echoes Mr. Kite. Director John Bolton combined the two into this film.
We get a long set-up to the stunt, plus film clips from the time. Evel Knievel shows up, played by a look-alike actor. Other cast members debate tactics, do extensive re-creations and periodically break into song. The film cuts away frequently to Haney talking about what got him interested and to Georgia Straight critic Adrian Mack talking about the music that Haney wrote. Taken together, it’s utterly entertaining. It plays all week at the VanCity Theatre with Bolton, Haney and Andrew Macnee, the actor who plays Carter, attending Fri, Sat and Sun and The Patsy Klien/Tony Wilson Quartet also there Fri performing the music. 4 out of 5
THE OTHER HALF: That timeless expression heard in movie romances, “you complete me,” gets a serious test in this Toronto film. It’s given a try-out by two hot young actors, Tatiana Maslany (Emmy winner for Orphan Black) and Tom Cullen (known for Downton Abbey) who also happen to be romantically involved in real life. Not only that. They’re listed as executive producers for the film. So their hearts are in it and it shows in the strength of their performance.
They play fragile, adrift people. She’s bi-polar and has erratic mood swings. He’s suffering some sort of trauma because of a lost brother and acts out violently. He can’t hold a job. She has artistic ambitions as a painter though her father (Henry Czerny) pronounces “You’re not quite there yet.” Both feel annoyed by their disapproving parents and see that their only chance is with each other. The film builds their relationship sweetly and then puts us on mood swings too by breaking it down several times. The result feels real. Joey Klein, the writer and director, says it’s more than a little autobiographical. And the two leads, who are also friends of his, give entirely believable performances, Cullen as a brooding mumbler and Maslany with a wide range from depressed to volatile and affable in between. It’s a small, sometimes slow film, but they make it work. (International Village) 3 out of 5