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Fast Five, Prom, squabbling actors and a close-up look at a modern war

Paul Walker, Vin Diesel and some hot cars star in Fast Five.

Summer is still far away, but there's already a potential blockbuster in the theatres. Fast Five has fast cars, tough women and sweaty guys fighting. Other new films visit a real war, a wake where recriminations fly, a high school prom, a fairy tale twisted out of shape and an artistic cinematographer.

Here's the list:

Fast Five     3 1/2 stars
Armadillo     4 1/2
Cameraman  4
A Wake    3
Hoodwinked Too!   2 1/2
Prom    2 1/2


FAST FIVE: You say you want fine acting, subtle character development and some insight into the human condition? Well, you’ve come to the wrong place. Here you get hot cars driven screaming fast, outrageous stunts and a monumental fight between a former bouncer (Vin Diesel) and a former wrestler (Dwayne Johnson).  
You also get a mindless movie that’s bound to make a pile of money this weekend because it is so entertaining. Well, mostly. It starts off strong. Diesel is on his way to prison. His friends (led by Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster) free him by causing the prisoner bus to roll over on the highway. They all head to Rio de Janeiro, where they engineer a truly spectacular sequence. They steal three cars off a speeding train. At the end of the film, they’re towing a vault full of money through the streets, crashing it into a bank, smashing lots of police cars and anything else in the way. Between the start and that end the film slows down. That’s where the story gets filled in and the actors can’t manage to keep it vibrant, although there are chases in Rio’s favelas and gun battles seemingly inspired by the great Brazilian film City of God.

The pals plan a heist to rob Brazil’s biggest drug dealer. They form a team by bringing back characters from the previous films in the series (it started 10 years ago with The Fast and the Furious; this is #5).  Johnson, who is new to the series, plays an American agent trying to catch them. It’s great fun -- and stay for the end credits. There’s a curious scene stuck in there that’s either a gift to the fans who know the series inside out, or a pointer to future sequels. (Scotiabank, Oakridge, Dolphin and many suburban theatres)  3½ out of 5

ARMADILLO: This intimate documentary shows what war is really like, and how the young men sent to fight handle it. It’s much like but far better than the American film Restrepo, which was nominated for an Academy Award (and whose director was recently killed covering the fighting in Libya). Both films take us to live with a platoon of soldiers in Afghanistan. Armadillo’s are Danish. The details of their daily life are similar, with lots of fear slicing through the boredom and the bravado; even to a cow killed accidentally in each film and fried up for dinner.

But there’s more action, more tension, drama and soul searching in the Danish version. The camera happens to capture some dramatic battle footage and an incident that causes a controversy back home. There was even an official investigation. The soldiers who went there full of idealism, come home shaken, not so much by what they had to do, but the reaction they got. This is high drama. The British Film Institute last year named it best documentary and called it “a touchstone film that will be watched for years to come.”  (VanCity Theatre)  4½ out of 5    

Playing in tandem with ….

AMERICAN, THE BILL HICKS STORY: an admiring portrait of the late comedian from Texas who found far more fame in England than in the U.S. with his scabrous dissection of U.S. foreign policy.

CAMERAMAN: This is a treat for film buffs because it showcases The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff, the great British cinematographer. He died a couple of years ago, but for about 10 years before that, director Craig McCall gathered comments about him from stars (Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Kim Hunter) and admirers like director Richard Fleischer, who called him “probably the greatest color photographer that ever lived” and Martin Scorsese, possibly his greatest fan. The documentary was finished last year. This is its premiere engagement in Vancouver.

We know that his visual triumph The Red Shoes is a de-facto ancestor of the newest ballet film, The Black Swan, because of its similar story. Scorsese adds how it influenced the boxing scenes in Raging Bull. Best of all, are Cardiff’s own memories including how he got certain difficult shots and in a more gossipy line how he photographed Marlene Dietrich in the bath and why Orson Welles demanded a mink-lined costume to play Ghengis Khan. The film has lots of clips from his movies, even the Rambo and Conan films he shot, as well as home movies and photos he took on various sets. (Pacific Cinematheque)  4 out of 5

More in New Movies

Widows of criminals doing it for themselves, the seed of modern politics and the perils of war reporting

Also an ingenious take on the migrant crisis, and a second appreciation this year of Ingmar Bergman that adds to what we already know from the first

Melissa’s forgeries, Rami’s dead-on Freddie Mercury and a cult classic re-imagined

Also: a bit of opera (real with Maria Callas and fictional in Bel Canto) and an ode to BC’s chief geographical feature in This Mountain Life
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