New Movies for July 24, 2009
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ORPHAN: The latest evil-child movie is really on to something for quite a while. It methodically spins a web of real-life terrors within a family: distrust, self-doubt, and regret for past-actions. Then it undoes the good work with an implausible twist and has to turn to horror movie clichés to wind things up. Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard are thoroughly believable as a troubled couple who want a third child after their own was stillborn. They adopt one who seems ideal, a polite young girl who loves to draw and play piano. “I guess I’m different,” she says sweetly and soon intimidates her new siblings, cozies up to dad and has mom uttering suspicions that nobody believes. The mood gets nicely creepy although a few speeches along the way bring on some unintended laughs. A shock opening and an absurd last line don’t help either. (At theatres all over).
THROW DOWN YOUR HEART: This is a warm, sometimes emotional musical documentary. Banjo player Bela Fleck, searching for his instrument’s origins, takes a tour of four African countries and makes music with some great players and one very moving singer. At last year’s Vancouver International Film Festival, it was voted the most popular of all the documentaries and now it kicks off an ambitious series at the VanCity Theatre. From now until August 18, almost two dozen films will be shown bringing you The Stones, Woodstock, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Miriam Makeba, Marlene Dietrich, gypsies, Brazilian samba…. The list goes on. Check out www.vifc.org/films/special/summer.htm for all the details.
ROCKSTEADY: THE ROOTS OF REGGAE: This documentary is about as amiable as every Jamaican I’ve ever met. The fact that it’s a Canadian and Swiss co-production may also have helped. It’s a look back at the music that came immediately before reggae. Rocksteady was essentially a slowed down form of ska, with a lot of influences mixed in from black American pop and soul. Bob Marley’s early records were in the style. We’re most familiar with two songs, Rivers of Babylon, covered by Boney M, and The Tide is High, covered by Blondie. This film gives us the originals through the memories of some of the people who were there. They were brought together to record an album and perform in concert. Judy Mowatt, Derrick Morgan, Leroy Sibbles and others recall the optimism of independence and the later coming of rude boys (urban gangsters) and political turmoil. Except for Rita Marley who takes us into the kitchen where she and Bob first had sex, the stories aren’t remarkable. The real attraction is lots of good music.
REVANCHE: This is a near masterpiece from Austria that was one of my favorite films last year at the Vancouver Film Festival and was then nominated for an Oscar. It starts out grim but takes a few mood turns before a satisfying end. A small-time employee at a Vienna brothel falls in love with one of the women, but loses her in a botched robbery that was supposed to gain them a ticket out of there. He retreats to the countryside, to his grandfather’s farm. He still wants revenge, though, against a small-town cop. What form it could possibly take and how he handles the struggle within him makes for a tense and engrossing second half. (Pacific Cinematheque).
Also playing …
HUMPDAY: A low-budget film from Seattle that’s drawn some positive reviews. Two old college buddies (played by Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard) re-connect after many years, have too many drinks and drugs at a party and decide to enter a contest by making a gay porn film. The twist, of course, is that they’re straight which may or may not give them an advantage. A lot of improvised dialogue explores friendship and male identity. (Tinseltown).