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Movies opening June 19

Canadians, both real and ersatz, are prominent in this week's new movies but for bona fide quality read down the list to a film from France.


THE PROPOSAL: Sandra Bullock's many fans may enjoy this. As for me, the highest praise I can muster is: it's cute. That's all. That's because after a promising start, it declines into a standard romantic comedy, with the usual story arc and most of the common cliches. Bullock is the intimidating boss at a New York book publisher. Her staff spreads computer alerts like “The witch is on the move” when she enters the building. She may soon have to leave, though. She's a Canadian and threatened with deportation. To forestall that, she bullies a milquetoast assistant (played by Ryan Reynolds, who really is a Canadian) into agreeing to marry her. For the rest of the film, they try to overcome their mutual dislike. Unfortunately, they leave the many subtle touches about big city office culture behind and travel to Alaska to visit his family. We now get hackneyed and sometimes embarrassing scenes about small town life and a chilly father-son relationship. Old hands Craig. T. Nelson, Mary Steenburgen and Betty White do their best but not much feels real. As for Bullock and Reynolds, even with a mild nude scene, that's not chemistry they develop, just pretty good repartee. (At theatres all over)

YEAR ONE: This film doesn't even reach the level of cute. The word stupid more readily comes to mind. It operates on the artistic level of a high school skit and then moves uneasily into Cecil B. DeMille Biblical epic territory. Canadian Harold Ramis wrote the story and directed. Jack Black is paired in the lead with Ontario-native Michael Cera, perhaps trying to re-establish the tradition of mismatched movie comedians. Laurel and Hardy these guys are not. The humor is far too broad and juvenile. Black is a hunter and a blow-hard; Cera is a whiny gatherer. They're tossed out of their tribe after eating of the Forbidden Fruit and wander the ancient land kibitzing all the way.

They meet Cain and Abel, Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son and hordes of revelers, slaves and royalty in the city of Sodom. That allows them many opportunities for jokes about body parts and fluids, circumcision, virgins and many other staples of modern teenage comedies. The main comic device is anachronism, most evident in the boys' modern speech patterns. There are some laughs to be had but nothing like those Monty Python films of old. (At theatres all over)

VICTORIA DAY: It's sometimes hard to root for Canadian films. This one sets out to do something admirable - tell a realistic story about growing up - but leaves you only half-satisfied. Award-winning Toronto writer David Bezmozgis made it based partly on his own coming-of-age years in the 1980s as the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. Maybe he stuck too closely to real events because there are improbabilities in the story and no apparent conclusion. When a classmate goes missing, a young man hides the fact that he lent him money the previous evening to buy drugs. He then starts a tentative love affair with the guy's sister. All the while his father hectors him in Russian to distrust the police and become more like Gretzky, playing at the time in a Stanley Cup final. The film does well in portraying the era as well as teenage angst, conflicting anxieties and friendship. But there are also dull spots and times when the story is not well-told. (Fifth Avenue Cinemas).

SUMMER HOURS: This is a very good French film that takes on a subject all too rare in the movies. What happens after we're gone? Will anything remain of what we've built? When their mother dies, three siblings have to decide what to do with her house, garden, antiques, and valuable art collection. They recall their summers playing on the spacious grounds and how they promised that their own children would enjoy them. Things have gone beyond that, though. One now lives in New York; another has a job in Shanghai. Only one still feels any attachment to the family home. The film has them debating and arguing, but not fighting, towards a solution. Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling and Jérémie Renier all give strong, understated performances as the siblings. The film, briskly directed by Olivier Assayas, is bittersweet and moving. (Ridge Theatre).

Also playing …

SHARKWATER: The admission is free for this stunning documentary showing at the Park Theatre every day for a week. (4 and 7 p.m.). Toronto cinematographer Rob Stewart takes us underwater to show that sharks are not a Jaws-like menace but very much in danger. They're hunted for among other things to be eaten in shark-fin soup, which some restaurants call “fish-fin” soup. Stewart takes his camera along to several shark regions. Off Guatemala he joins Paul Watson battling poachers. (Patrick Moore, ex of local Greenpeace, also appears). This is a passionate defense of a maligned but crucial species in our oceans.

TAIWANESE FILM FESTIVAL: For three years now, a group of UBC students has organized this brief celebration of films from Taiwan. The six films showing this year cover teenage friendship, hybrid religion, feuding sisters, tradition vs modernity, and a little-known wartime piece of history from 1895. Several have won awards. They're on at the VanCity Theatre Friday through Sunday, June 19-21. For details, showtimes and more visit www.twff.ca.

Photo: The ProposalSummer HoursSharkwaterVictoria Day
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