The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Carlos, Heart of a Dragon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Aftershock, Inside Job, My Uncle and Saw 3D

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We hardly have time to savor the dozens of paintings that float across the screen. But then Basquiat’s career was speedy too. He flared out of the New York art scene to international success and then to death by heroin overdose in less than 10 years. He was befriended by Warhol, bedded by Madonna and celebrated by the modern art cognoscenti for the “surrealistic urban pop” in his art.


This is a loving portrait of the artist by Tamra Davis who, besides directing TV shows, music videos and that movie starring Britney Spears, became a close friend and taped a video interview with him at the height of his fame. The film is built around clips from that footage where he comes across as charming and affable. Others--close pals, former girlfriends, art collectors and gallery owners--fill in the rest, from his days as a street kid creating graffiti to his inability to handle the fast money and fame that came to him. He became distrustful and paranoid. 

“He didn’t have the tools to navigate that sea,” says Julian Schnabel, the artist who has also directed a dramatic film about his life. The personal story is there and it’s well told. There’s almost no evaluation of his art though, except for the contrasting claims that he was a “genius” or that his contribution to art was “practically nil.” (Pacific Cinematheque until Nov 3)  4 out of 5.

INSIDE JOB: The foreclosures are still going on. The American economy still hasn’t recovered. Obama is taking the blame, when all he did was head off a total collapse. That’s the current fallout from the banking crisis and financial meltdown of 2008. This film explains what really happened back then, and how a U.S. domestic problem triggered a world-wide economic crisis. Charles Ferguson, who previously produced a scathing film on the Iraq war, talks to Wall Street, government and academic types who should have blown the whistle on the reckless greed that brought on the crisis. (The big players wouldn’t talk to him). Other films have had more succinct analyses or shown personal stories of the affect on real people, but this one brings a measured sense of outrage along with the harsh evidence. (Tinseltown) 3 ½ out of 5.

AFTERSHOCK: This Chinese blockbuster re-creates the 1976 earthquake in Tangshan where 240,000 people died. The special effects are stupendous. Then we get the aftermath and the impact on one family. The father has died, two children are pinned under a slab of concrete and the mother is forced to choose which one is to live. The leader of the rescue team says they can’t save both. It’s a harrowing scene as she repeatedly pleads for both. Miraculously the daughter she sacrifices also survives, is adopted by a Red Army officer and spends the rest of the film searching for her brother. A highly emotional, tear-inducing melodrama. And a patriotic nod to the army for their tireless work. Feng Xiaogang is China’s most successful director these days. (Tinseltown)  3 out of 5.

MY UNCLE: Pacific Cinémathèque is also winding up its retrospective look at the great French comedian Jacques Tati with this 1958 film which may be a first for Vancouver. Tati made his Oscar-winning comedy Mon Oncle that year, but also an English version that all but disappeared until it was recently found in his archives and restored. Film buffs will look closely for the differences, which the New Yorker last month identified as a “darker and more acerbic” concern over creeping American influence.

Most people will just laugh at the subtly funny antics of Tati’s M. Hulot in the modernistic offices, factory and home of his chubby sister and brother-in-law. The kitchen gadgets and the backyard that’s so stylish that it’s utterly impractical are hilarious. (Pacific Cinémathèque until Nov 1) 

SAW 3D: Jigsaw died a few films ago but others carry on his wave of terror. Lionsgate, the studio that’s based here, operated out of California and makes these films in Toronto, relies heavily on the money this series brings in. Last year, Saw was outdone by Paranormal Activity and has its sequel to contend with this year. So, 3D better deliver. This is the seventh Saw film and surely it’s torture porn, even though some folks defend it as something much deeper, something about the depths to which personal tragedy, grief and anger can drive some people. (Scotiabank, Dolphin and suburban theatres).

NOTE: The images are photos supplied by the movie studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.

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