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Incendies, Another Year, No Strings Attached, and more, plus a new film festival

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NO STRINGS ATTACHED: She’s a potential Oscar  winner for Black Swan, so what is Natalie Portman doing in a middling romantic comedy like this? And opposite a shallow hunk like Ashton Kutcher? She manages to bring a genuine vulnerable character to the film. He’s out-acted all the way.

Think of this like a modernized When Harry Met Sally. That film asked can a man and woman be friends and avoid having sex?  This one asks can they have a lot of sex and avoid falling in love? Natalie and Ashton play a couple who (after meeting at four different stages of their lives) strike up a deal. They’ll be available to each other for sex anytime, no emotional commitment allowed. (The film was once to be called F*** Buddies). Emotional strings do form though, as does jealousy, suspicion, break up and other phenomena common to every romantic comedy ever made. So, what sometimes plays as a sharp examination of modern relationships, sinks into a fairly standard rom-com by the end. The laughs are intermittent and there’s a steady and surprising flow of very rude jokes. It’s how young moderns talk in real life, some people say. Maybe, but it’s overdone here. Ivan Reitman, Jason’s dad, directed. He’s known for big hits like Ghostbusters and Dave which came years ago. (Scotiabank, Oakridge and many suburban theatres)  2 ½ out of 5

THE WAY BACK: Maybe it’s the relentless anti-Soviet message laid too heavily right off the top. Maybe it’s because we don’t really get to know many of the characters we accompany on a grueling trek. For whatever reason, this film by Peter Weir, seven years after his Master and Commander  and long after his classics like Witness and The Year of Living Dangerously is not particularly compelling. Odd that, since the story is amazing and apparently true, although not exactly as told in the best-selling book the film is based on.

Seven men escape from a Siberian prison camp in 1940 and walk south, 4,000 miles through Mongolia, across the Gobi Desert, over the Himalayas, into India. They’re joined along the way by a young woman from Poland (a charming Saoirse Ronan) and only four of those eight make it to their destination. The film gives us all the details of their hardships, including thirst, cold and sandstorms, and offers a defiant philosophy, thanks to one of the walkers, that “survival is a kind of protest”. But you’ll remember the spectacular landscapes more than the people on the trek. Jim Sturgess is supposed to be the leader but proves a weak presence in the film. Colin Farrell is stronger but bails out midway. Ed Harris is the most interesting character with his warning: “Kindness. That can kill you here.”  You can read about the disputed story at this site:  (International Village Cinemas)  2 ½ out of 5.

FATHERS & SONS: Vancouver director Carl Bessai followed up to his award winning  Mothers & Daughters  with this similar-in-style look at the other parent-child relationship. (He’s got a look at brothers and sisters coming soon). This one is uneven but often very funny, sometimes sad and occasionally angry.


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As well as a cleverly-plotted trip to Barcelona thanks to Netflix

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Some modest recommendations and stay for the last one, an alarm about what has happened to the internet.
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