Tron Legacy, The Fighter, Made in Dagenham, Yogi Bear, and three other holiday films

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HOW DO YOU KNOW: You expect more than this from James L. Brooks. He’s got The Simpsons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and movies like Broadcast News and Terms of Endearment on his resume. His new one, though, is just mush. Likeable characters meander in a weak romantic comedy even as the plotline offers every opportunity to put some bite into the story.


Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd have a nice rapport as characters suddenly adrift. She didn’t make the national softball team and he’s under investigation for securities fraud. The boss who fires him is his own father (Jack Nicholson).


Oddly the film doesn’t use that financial crimes sub-plot for much in the way of humor or censure. Instead it watches Reese misjudge Paul as a weirdo and move in with a pro baseball player (Owen Wilson) who observes that “women jocks are amazing.”  How long before she comes to her senses and can Paul stay out of jail? Try to stay interested. Better yet count the many times the characters speak in aphorisms. Nicholson: “Cynicism is security”. A note on Reese’s mirror: “You can correct the situation.” Her sports psychologist: “You’re tougher than you think.” Or this gem: “Never drink to feel better. Only drink to feel even better.”  There are so many, it feels like the script was written on post-it notes. (Scotiabank and many suburban theatres)  2 ½ out of 5

YOGI BEAR: Well, the Chipmunks made money, so why not the bear who claims to be smarter than average? Nostalgic parents will take the kids and that’s okay. It’s not art, has a lot of silly laughs and is ultimately redeemed from a certain crass opportunism by a strong environmental message.

In Jellystone Park, set in Montana, looking exactly like B.C. but filmed in New Zealand, Yogi’s schemes to steal picnic basket food get ever more elaborate and slapstick funny. The zip line and the catapult are particularly good and he’s working on a “razzle dazzle water ski routine. Dan Aykroyd overdoes his voice with an annoying Catskills comedian vibe. Justin Timberlake is more natural as his pal Boo Boo. They’re computer generated, playing alongside live actors: Anna Faris as a filmmaker and Tom Cavanagh (a Canadian) as a perpetually outwitted Ranger Smith. The 3-D is fine and the computer creations are seamless. Witness Yogi hugging and lifting Ranger Smith late in the film. It looks real. The green message is in a devious scheme by a local mayor to balance his city budget by shutting down the park and selling the logging rights. That actor looks uncomfortably like Kevin Falcon. (International Village, Dolphin and many suburban theatres)  2 ½ out of 5

I, DON GIOVANNI: It worked in Shakespeare in Love and in the current film, Black Swan. It almost works here. I’m talking about a speculation about a parallel between the creation of a work of art and the creators. In this film we meet the man who collaborated with Mozart on his famous opera. Lorenzo da Ponte was a Venetian Jew who was forced to convert to Christianity and became both a priest and a libertine. That got him exiled to Vienna where he connected with Mozart and put a bit of his own story (as well as some from his friend Casanova) into the libretto for Don Giovanni.

It’s a sumptuous film adorned with elaborate sets and rich music as the two create and rehearse their opera. They also have to deal with backstage conflicts, a new love affair and a diva who feels slighted. Curiously for an opera-based film, there’s not a lot of passion in this presentation but there are rich costumes and some beautiful cinematography by Vittorio Storaro, who is best known for Apocalypse Now. The director, Carlos Saura, who just had his film Fados showing in Vancouver, does some clever combining. As da Ponte recites his plot ideas, the story plays out on a giant stage behind them. The film is entirely in Italian, which, if you believe everything here, is the language of Vienna. (VanCity Theatre)  3 ½ out of 5

KINGS OF PASTRY: How appropriate is this for this time of year? A film about a contest to find the world’s top pastry chefs, or as the French call them,  MOFs (Meilleurs Ouvriers de France). Veteran documentary makers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hedegus take us there after spending time with a Chicago competitor, Jacquy Pfeiffer. We watch him practice, fussing to get some tarts just right and fretting about a mandatory creation, an elaborate sugar sculpture. He instructs us about the intricacies of humidity which can have calamitous effects on sugar.


When we get to France we get to know a few other chefs and then watch three days of grueling competition. There’s immense suspense, some near disasters and then a genuine one as a chef drops his sugar sculpture. It’s high drama combined with more than a little obsession. Like in any good contest film, there’s major tension when the results are announced. The film is the first to document the annual event which is big enough that we see French president Nicolas Sarkozy attending on day one. (Pacific Cinematheque). 3 ½ out of 5

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


More in New Movies

New vs old in Birds of Passage; an easy look at a killer sickness in Five Feet Apart and a good one for the kids, Wonder Park

And lots more: hippies try farming, a divorcé seeks love, melodrama and politics in Argentina and a dystopian teen thriller with something of a Handmaid’s Tale vibe

Watching that new female super hero, more women in film and that giant leap for mankind

Also Peter Bogdanovich’s ode to a genius of movie comedy, the great Buster Keaton

Chloe meets Greta, Ruben Brandt steals art and Jean-Luc Godard ponders the state of the world in his Image Book

Also dancers on an acid trip in Climax and four other movies not available for review
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